Sapo National Park – a hidden gem of Liberia

Everything you should know about the Sapo National Park in Liberia

Sapo National Park is situated in the southwest of Liberia, in Sinoe county. With a size of 1,804 km² it is a protected area and the only national park in the country. Before the year 2003 the land area was by 37 % smaller. It consists largely of primary rainforest that reaches up to 640 meters at the peak of Mount Putu. The park focuses on conservation. The facilities of the park were extensively destroyed during the two civil wars. Infrastructure is being rebuilt step by step. Camping sites are currently not available, but camping is allowed. Until now facilities for visitors are still almost not existing. There are no hotels located right inside where the trekking paths are, but simple accommodation is available in the outer area of the park. Visitors must bring all their food and water and supplies themselves. The park is best to be explored for at least 2 or 3 days. It is not worth to do all of it in a day-trip.

The best way of getting Sapo National Park is through Monrovia, passing the town Greenville at the coast. The road can be rough and muddy and a 4×4 car is recommended. The car can be parked in Jalay Town. The final stretch can only be reached on foot within around 4 hours. It is obligatory to be guided by scouts. Canoes are there to get from one side of the river to the other. Entry fees vary between Liberian citizens and foreigners. The fee is around 10 USD for foreigners. Additional costs will arise for parking your car and for crossing the river. During the rainy season treks may be closed and the crossing of the river prohibited.

The landscape is a mixture of hills, rocky walls and swamps. Sinoe River is the largest of several rivers flowing through the park. It has a good location as it is in a region that is less populated by humans and gets less affected by external changes. The only tribe living there are the Sapo people. The park is known for its dense occurrence of various mammals. The ecosystem is part of the so called Upper Guinean forest. Liberia is the country with the largest part, with smaller shares belonging to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Guinea, Togo and Sierra Leone. The forest stays green all year round as it is situated in a tropically warm climate. There is a wet and dry season. During the dry season some rivers can dry out, while during the rainy season some vegetation near the rivers can become flooded.

The Sapo National Park is the habitat of endemic flora and fauna. Some are threatened ones. The park is known for its mammalians. Such as the African civet, hogs, pangolins, duiker antelopes, elephants and chimpanzees. Conservation is a high priority in this park and the pygmy hippopotamuses are an example of good practices in the region. They are a miniature version of the commonly known hippos. These animals are native to West African countries. Today, they mainly occur in protected areas such as the Sapo National Park, as they are often times hunted outside.

Since its foundation in 1976, the World Wildlife Fund, World Conservation Union and the Peace Corps have kept the efforts high to maintain the park. Originally three national parks were planned, however only Sapo was erected. The creators ensured that Mount Putu will be part of it.

Currently the main disturbances in the park are caused by poaching and logging. Since the beginning, the park has been a target, also due to the social and political instability. Illegal farming and mining are additional threats to the park. During the civil wars rebels took the power over the park and centers for rehabilitation and an orphanage for animals had been destroyed. Employees had to flee the park and for some time the resources of the park had been a target for illegal actions. During the wars several villages had been left abandoned by people who fled. Towards the end of the second war, people, among them also rebels moved into the area and started hunting and looking for gold. Around 5000 people were living there. Many were staying there illegally and trying to make profits with the commodities of the forest. Today, only the local tribe has the right to live there. Until 2005 all other people had left the park.

 

Written by: Benjamin Sydney Pretsch

 

 

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