Destruction of wildlife in Sierra Leone does not bode well for tourism and ecosystem – a special report

James Fallah-Williams: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 October 2019:

The Sierra Leone Government’s much hyped quest to promote tourism in the country has been dealt a major blow, after two leopards were killed by bushmeat hunting villagers in Kabala, Koinadugu District in Northern Sierra Leone. This is the first-time leopards have been seen in the region for almost 100 years.

One of the dead leopards that was photographed appears to have been pregnant, adding to the mindless destruction of what is a national treasure. A thorough investigative work has confirmed that, indeed, two leopards were killed.

This barbaric attitude towards wildlife has to be dealt with in order to preserve what is left of the fast-dwindling nature reserves of the country – especially at this point in time, when environmental degradation has become a major concern for the world.

The Minister for Tourism, Memunatu Pratt, who is working hard to secure European and Asian investment has taken her eyes off educating the country about the need to protect biodiversity.

When she comes back with European and Asian investment, there will be nothing left for tourists to see in the country. She has been signing Memoranda of Understanding for tourism projects with international organisations, but she has failed to launch a national campaign to highlight the urgent need to preserve and protect the wildlife of the country. It is inconceivable that those in authority are turning a blind eye to such obliteration – but they certainly do.

Photo: Sierra Leone Minister for Tourism, Memunatu Pratt (in yellow dress).

The minister has just returned from the International and French Tourism Market (IFTM) Top Resa Exhibition in Porte de Versailles, Paris, France, where she has been marketing investment opportunities for tourism – while wildlife vandals are destroying whatever little is left to show tourists.

Asked what her impressions were of the Paris exhibition, the minister responded: “It looks interesting … We are promoting tourism, but we also need investments.  We want investments to support the tourism sector”.

You cannot promote tourism with dead leopards. No foreign investor or country would invest their nationals’ pension funds in a failing system that overlooks this asinine annihilation of the very attractions that bring foreign visitors into the country.

Sierra Leone has some of the rarest fauna and flora, with new discoveries made every few years, but these are being systemically destroyed to an extent beyond comprehension.

The pygmy hippopotamus (Hexaprotodon liberiensis), for example, is a miniature hippopotamid found in the Gola Forests of Sierra Leone. It is now classed as critically endangered in the country after the bushmeat trade and deforestation have dangerously depleted its numbers.

In Sierra Leone, people (especially those living in larger towns and cities) pay a premium price for bushmeat. This serves as fuel for the continued and relentless exploitation of wildlife. City criminals have also taken advantage of the situation and have started selling dog meat disguised as bushmeat on the streets.

Those who travel on the highway to provincial towns are often greeted by village hunters selling dead animals and birds – endangered species – by the roadside. The reason the government has turned a blind eye to this practice is that they do not want to upset their supporters. This is absolute madness, to say the least.

A further contributing factor to the fast-disappearing wildlife of Sierra Leone is state-sponsored logging, which has destabilised wildlife habitats and decimated their populations.

On one of our field visits to Eastern Sierra Leone, we came across a 45ft-truck full of red ironwood and other valuable timber heading towards the Guinea border. This practice has caused habitat loss for rare white-necked rockfowls (Picathartes), which are now classed as vulnerable. Picathartes are regarded as some of Africa’s most prized birds, and they have become flagbearers for eco-tourism wherever they are found. They could bring much-needed income to impoverished communities – if only the government had the political conviction to educate people about their preservation.

The money received from logging is a pittance, and it is incomparable to the damage caused not only to the environment but also to the lives of people. The 2017 landslide that killed over a thousand people on Sugar Loaf Mountain in Freetown is a direct result of logging and land degradation.

Further along the coast from Sugar Loaf Mountain is the No. 2 River, a place where coveted seawater crocodiles are found. The mangrove is also home to green monkeys that have come under sustained exploitation by bushmeat hunters. The river leads to a rocky foot of the mountain beneath Guma Valley, where it abruptly stops and swallows a rushing spring from the hills.

New plant species from the Podostemaceae family are often found in such places in the country. Even here, land clearance, illegal logging and charcoal production have brutally subdued the habitat. Now you will be lucky to see any saltwater crocodiles or green monkeys. In my short, I did not see a single one.

This irresponsible encroachment is killing the whole environment, and it is mind-blowing that the tourism minister is still myopic about this.

During my expedition, I got off the boat and walked along the riverbank, where I found a pair of Pandanus candelabrum trees. Incredibly, this is just under an hour’s drive from the city of Freetown.

Pandanus (Photo below) is very common and widely used in Asia but very uncommon in Sierra Leone. I asked a local guide what it was called but he did not know – he had never seen one before. There are several species of these, and in Asia they are used for food or as raw material for clothing, basket weaving and shelter. In fact, they are called the ‘vanilla of Asia’, as they are used to flavour drinks.

This is the sort of thing that the tourism minister could help the youths to grow and derive income from, so that they could leave the eco-system and the wildlife alone. But unemployed young people are instead being used as entertainers in raffia skirts in a desperate bid to ‘promote’ tourism.

Promoting tourism with young men and women in raffia skirts dancing on stage is pathetic and anachronistic, and it adds no value to tourism in the country. It only upholds a stereotypical image and the long-held portrayal of native people as uncivilised. The young men and women who are dancing in raffia skirts to attract tourists are the same people who are using the forests as hunting grounds for bushmeat. They are the same people who are involved in illegal logging, destroying the very habitat that is supposed to sustain them.

Attending international tourism exhibitions with these groups of dancers won’t add any value to the tourism industry whatsoever. Let us educate the people not to kill and eat leopards and picathartes; let us leave the wildlife alone and it will sell itself in terms of eco-tourism. As informed Sierra Leoneans, led by the Minister for Tourism, part of our responsibility is to educate the people about the value of preserving the environment. For example, in places such as Turtle Island, sea turtles that used to breed there no longer come; they are hunted for their meat and eggs. Even stranded whales on the sandy beaches of Freetown are killed for their meat by locals and fishermen. This has to stop.

In our development work with local communities in some parts of Sierra Leone, we have come across some of the last remaining forests with beautiful plants. This is Ptychopetalum anceps (Photo below), found in forests in Eastern Sierra Leone. Kew Gardens in London has been very kind by helping to identify these plants for us. But even these exquisite little forests are disappearing fast.

Even a recent rediscovery of indigenous black coffee trees (Coffea stenophylla) in the hills of Southern Sierra Leone – by Kew Gardens on an expedition funded by the Darwin Initiative – has triggered no urgency for conservation efforts by the state. This native black coffee is said to be better than the widely used Arabica.

The Sierra Leone authorities have always spoken about modelling their national tourism industry on that of The Gambia. But what they fail to realise is that the government of The Gambia educated its people way back in the 1980s. Killing a bird in The Gambia is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. The explosive birdlife you see today in The Gambia is the result of that sensitisation – today. The Gambia has a diversity of birds unrivalled by any other West African Country. This draws a large number of European tourists to the country. The Gambia also has a wonderfully protected angling haven, which draws thousands of eco-tourists to the country. Well over 70,000 tourists from the UK alone, visit The Gambia every year. But even larger numbers of tourists to The Gambia come from Scandinavian countries.

In The Gambia, historic buildings and sites are also maintained and protected, whereas in Sierra Leone, historic buildings such as the house that was used as the birthplace of the oldest modern university in Africa stands in ruin in central Freetown. (Photo below: On the Ministry of Tourism website, this is what is misleadingly advertised).

In reality, this is what the building looks like today (Photo below), taken just a few days ago; the roof is gone, the Victorian facade is gone, and the doors and windows have all been removed by vandals.

Those with foresight would say: ‘Let us rehabilitate this building and turn it into a museum, an art gallery and a restaurant’. This is where you should exclusively serve Coffea stenophylla! There is enough room to fit all these in, but it has been turned into an al fresco toilet; people using it for sanitation purposes in broad daylight.

There is not a single national art gallery in the whole country for skilled artists to exhibit their work. I sometimes wonder what planet we are living on. That such a building could be left to rot underlines our approach to decision-making.

The Parliamentary Chairman of the Tourism Committee, Mohamed Sheriff Rahman Coker MP, recently said that the country can only attract tourists when the government creates an enabling environment and passes appropriate laws. This is pure rhetoric for the cameras… because the next time he visits up-line (up-country), I predict he will be chomping bushmeat and whispering, ‘To hell with conservation and eco-tourism!’

For those who travel up-line for this ‘delicacy’, the next bushmeat you buy by the side of the road in rural Sierra Leone could be the last leopard in the country. Bon apetito!

About the author

James Fallah-Williams is Programme Director for Practical Tools Initiative, a Sierra Leonean NGO.

james@practicaltoolsinitiative.org

7 Comments

  1. An award winning report,that’s what it was – a heroic,courageous Sniper’s supersonic bullet,that came out of nowhere,zipping through the air,hitting multiple targets,creating shockwaves,that caused the Inadequate SLPP to panic,and run for cover.(lol) Indeed Mr Williams needs to be enthusiastically applauded,and rewarded handsomely also,for a job well done.The exceptional intelligence, and brilliance he has flawlessly displayed in this matter of crucial importance so far is undoubtedly unmatched. Nuff respect Sir!

    Again,its good to hear the Minister has finally seen the light,and is now turning sensibly away from the eerie,unprofitable darkness,by changing her annoying belligerent tune. Now that’s truly a step in the right direction! But is that enough to turn a daunting,problematic situation around,and change things in the Tourism industry for the better? Nope,not at all! The Office Madam Pratt is holding comes with huge challenges,and responsibilities,and it seems to me, she’s not aware,and familiar with all of them.

    I still think her government,should seek the expert advice of Mr Williams,and use his report as a guideline,and manual for implementing,and maintaining,sustainable improvements,and successes in the Tourism industry.This lacklustre government in power must now show some amount of level headed maturity, put pride aside in the interest of the nation,and seek prudent,and sound advice from individuals that could spearhead progress,with confidence,and great ease.They would need experts,like Mr Williams,and others as advisers,and paid consultants; Of course,this will be money well spent,unlike countless millions they have been ceaselessly,tirelessly flushing down the drains of economic barrenness,and unproductivity,on a daily basis…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  2. It seems the minister of tourism is now accepting her responsibility in promoting wildlife and the eco-system in Sierra Leone if she is to create a successful and attractive tourism industry. Last week she was in combatant mood, throwing insults at the author James fallah. But today she has chnaged her tune.

    I saw this very intersting story published in the Calabsh Newspaper today, discussing the minister’s change of tune:

    “The mishap and misgivings of media reports and claims relating to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture over wildlife in Sierra Leone have given the Hon Minister of Tourism and Culture Dr. Memunatu Pratt a new sense of understanding about her role in helping with the protection of wildlife in Sierra Leone.

    “Though she maintains that she is not responsible for the protection of wildlife yet she has decided to display maturity and magnanimity to the issue by giving it a second thought.

    “In a rejoinder, she vows to display leadership at the highest degree to help save wildlife in Sierra Leone. Speaking to this Press (Calabash), she said, every challenge or problem has an opportunity to always emerge as champion, and so she has grabbed the opportunity created over the wildlife issue to bring help.

    “She said that her Ministry will work with the respected agencies for wildlife to provide training, resources from other international donor partners and facilities all within the pur.view of protection.”

    This is welcome news. If only all ministers and politicians can do this, then Sierra Leone will begin to see the way ahead in terms of development. Kudos to James fallah. Keep up the good work.

  3. The author, if available, should be appointed either as the Minister of Tourism or a consultant/subject matter expert to the Ministry of Tourism. He is very well informed and grounded in the ways and means of Tourism. It’s not only partisans of a governing party that must at all times be appointed to all Ministries, if the best interest of the country is to override party affiliation.

    • Sitting down in front of a computer and giving out solutions is very easy to do. Implementation has always been our problem. The last time I checked, Prof Monty Jones, a world renowned and award winning agriculturist was minister of agriculture under EBK. The same old problems of corruption and non-availability of food was pervasive during his reign. Our system is completely broken. I do not admire all these people who write all these fancy articles. Remember that almost all of those in authority today use to write fancy articles yesterday. Until I see a Sierra Leonean who actually does what he preaches, I am not impressed.

  4. I commend the author for hitting the nail square on its head. Sierra Leone has the potential to attract significant tourists if we develop our heritage and eco-tourism markets. We seem to always want to focus on the beaches. This is not sustainable.

  5. Absolutely well written Mr Fallah Williams. Bravo! Not surprised at all though! This is exactly what happens when priorities are not in order;when Government Ministers are tied up,and entangled in knots of their own incompetencies,shackled,and chained by poor sense of judgement,and lack of sound discretion. Sir,all you have to do is stand still,and observe, and you will see,so many government officials including the Tourism Minister running helter skelter,swinging wildly,loosely, back and forth like rattling,faulty pendulums,achieving absolutely nothing.(lol) Losers!

    To be sincere,I think it would be wise if the Tourism Minister would put pride aside,seek your expert advice on these matters,and permission also,to use this comprehensive article of yours as a manual,roadmap,and guideline for achieving greater success in the Tourism sector. This has to be done! Consider this – the Honorable Madam Pratt still thinks,and believes Sierra Leone is stuck in the dark ages; She’s still dressing young men,and women in Raffia Skirts to promote Tourism,while endangered animals are being massacred by ruthless hunters for Bush meat. Take a deep breath,and Imagine such incompetence just for a minute! (lol)

    And think on this also,since this inept government came to power,nothing whatsoever has been done in the Tourism industry to assess how sustainable progress can be attained,and maintained.Nothing! As usual they are putting the cart before the horse that pulls it – looking for investors when their house is still not in order.How many historic places,and monuments left neglected has the Tourism Minister visited,upgraded,rehabilitated,and repaired since she came to office? Let her answer that – I will wait! Square Pegs in round holes,that’s who,and what they are – cardboard puzzle pieces in the wrong places, struggling to fill positions too complexed and challenging for them to handle.(lmao) Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.