LIBERIA: Life-changing Question Transforms Wildlife Hunter to Forest Eco Guard
Sam Jomah, 41, is a sixth-grade school dropout in Lukasu Village, Lofa County. He is married with six children.
He resorted to hunting wildlife to secure a livelihood for his family. But this changed early this year when confronted with the question: “Have you ever seen a rich hunter before?”
The question was posed by the Society for the Conservation of Nature, Liberia (SCNL) while mobilizing community members for training leading to the recruitment of some of them as Eco Guards for the Gola Forest National Park and the proposed Foya protected area.
“I was confused because I was a hunter and used to stay in the forest to kill animals to feed my children and support my family. After thinking, I realized I did not know any hunter who is rich,” he told UNDP during a recent visit to Lukasu.
It was at this point that he decided to join other community members to be hired and trained as a forest eco guard. The training was about how to identify high-conservation wildlife species and identify illegal human activities within the protected area.
They were also given camera traps training, GPS operation skills, and a compass which are all geared toward making biomonitoring effective. The camera traps will be deployed in the forest for a period of a month to monitor the different species of the landscape.
Today Sam is an Eco Guard, trained, skilled, and equipped to patrol and monitor the forest for any illegal activities such as poaching. He is paid a stipend that enables him to provide for his family, and even save up to start a business, possibly a green business.
“Thanks to the community-based forestry project, today I know how to spell my name and my father’s names. I even know how to use a GPS and a compass,” Jomah said.
Asked if he is now able to provide for his family without having to resort to hunting, he smiled coyly saying: “Thanks to the project for where it has taken us from and where it is taking us.”
Sam is among 80 community members who have been recruited and trained as Eco Guards in the Northwest Region of the country covering Lofa, Grand Cape Mount County, and Gbarpolu Counties.
These eco guards will be equipped with tablets, tents, and other assorted items to aid them to conduct research as well as to monitor the forest for illegal activities.
They are one of the activities being undertaken by a Swedish-funded community-based forestry management project being implemented by UNDP and FAO in partnership with Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
The project is aimed at strengthening community involvement and participation in the governance of protected and community-managed forests.