Pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis)
Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 0925609
TThe pygmy hippopotamus (Choeropsis liberiensis) is a unique and endangered species endemic to the Upper Guinea Forests of West Africa. Sierra Leone, one of four countries home to these animals, recently ended a decade-long war that left the country devastated. The IUCN/SCC Pigs, Peccaries, and Hippos Specialist Group has set forth several objectives, including identification of populations at risk, establishment of distributions and abundance estimates, and dissemination of information (Eltringham 1993). The recent Pygmy Hippo Conservation Strategy Workshop in Monrovia, Liberia, pulled together stakeholders from across the range states to accumulate current knowledge of the status of pygmy hippos, and identified current threats, mainly habitat degradation and poaching. In Sierra Leone, the forests are rapidly shrinking and bush meat is a common source of protein.
Our 4 major objectives in the 2010-11 field season are to 1) continue population assessments using camera trapping and radio telemetry to track daily movements, estimate home ranges, and determine habitat use, 2) further explore suitable habitat for pygmy hippos including wildlife corridors between Gola Forest, Tiwai Island, and the Kambui Hills Reserves, 3) expand environmental education and awareness in local communities, and 4) create a long-term partnership among all stakeholders involved in pygmy hippo research and conservation.
Camera trapping--Camera trapping is described as a suitable method for mammal surveys, especially those animals that are elusive and rare; it can be used in a variety of environmental conditions given correct maintenance of cameras (Silveira et al. 2003, Swann 2004). Along with pygmy hippos, we are recording any species that trigger the camera, as this can give us valuable information on other threatened animals in the area. Previous camera trap surveys have yielded endangered and never before photographed species such as the Rufous fishing-owl (Scotopelia ussheri).
Radio-Telemetry--Wildlife Materials, Inc. designed a collar that we tested in the Gladys Porter Zoo. The collars remained on the pygmy hippopotamus for a few weeks before falling off due to failure of the glue. No abrasion or major adverse effects were reported. We ordered and shipped 5 collars to Sierra Leone. In January, Dr. John P. Carroll and Dr. Michelle Miller arrived in Sierra Leone to assist with the 1st capture event. Beginning on January 14th, we constructed pit traps on and around Tiwai Island (Figure 2). Over the next few days, a total of 14 pit traps were dug by local men. Four pit traps were constructed on the smaller islands to the west of Tiwai Island, and the others were situated around the middle of Tiwai near the research station. All traps were situated on trails frequently used by pygmy hippos.
Capacity building--The collaboration we have developed with Across the River Transboundary Project enabled us to join efforts to create a training of field technicians for 4 different organizations – the Environmental Foundation for Africa, Gola Forest Programme, the Across the River Transboundary Project and the University of Georgia. A total of 25 people attended for 2 days of sessions at Siletti Field Camp in Gola Forest. These sessions included GPS and compass methods, mammal and plant identification, fundamentals of population dynamics, and radio telemetry. Dr. John Carroll attended as a guest lecturer. The workshop was the first time these organizations have been brought together, and the feedback from the attendees was positive. The field assistants for our team had never attended any workshop before, and they had also had never visited Gola Forest. We hope to plan more workshops jointly in the future.
Environmental Education--In October 2010, the University of Georgia Pygmy Hippo Team joined efforts with the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) and Across the River Projects (ARTP) to conduct environmental education in local primary and secondary schools. We visited 8 schools in Barri chiefdom and 3 schools in Tunkia chiefdom. All schools were pleased with the program and more schools have requested our presence. In February 2011, the New Life Primary School in Potoru sent a letter requesting a visit for their students to Tiwai Island. EFA agreed to partially fund the trip and the UGA team provided the gasoline and motorcycles to transport the students from Potoru to the island. The students attended lectures given by Minah Conteh, Joe Flomo and April Conway on the importance of the forest and conservation. The UGA team field assistants also gave a short presentation on different methods used to survey animals in the forest. The students were then led on a forest walk through the grid system on Tiwai Island.
Human Dimensions-- As of December 2010, we have interviewed 520 people in 27 villages. We obtained surveys from 293 men and 227 women. On the 14th of December, we administered a modified survey that had questions more relevant to villages that are further from Tiwai Island. Nine villages that are more than 10 miles from Tiwai were given this revised survey. Some of the new questions included whether people felt that farming on the islands is more profitable than farming on the mainland whether they believe that islands contain more wildlife than the mainland. Another new question was whether the resident’s farm was near to the river.
Project 0925609 location - Sierra Leone, Africa