First surveys confirmed the presence of a population of pygmy hippos in the waterways at the foot of the Loma Mountain in the north of Sierra Leone. The project team is working with local villagers to stop hunting and protect the remaining habitat.
The pygmy hippo is an endangered mammal endemic to the threatened Upper Guinea Forests biodiversity hotspot with fewer than 3000 believed to remain in the wild. Yet little is known about the current distribution and threats to this species.
Through the support of SOS, ZSL’s EDGE Programme has been able to provide support to two new EDGE Fellows from Njala University in Sierra Leone to establish a pygmy hippo research and conservation programme in Sierra Leone. Through this support the project has been able to purchase 15 camera traps and various other equipment which has enabled them to begin carrying out surveys across the country.
The first surveys have had exciting results, confirming the presence of a population of pygmy hippos in the waterways at the foot of Loma Mountain in the north of the country. This site was rumoured to be home to pygmy hippos but, until now, no one was aware how important this site might be for the conservation of this endangered species. These initial results suggest that this may be the most significant population of pygmy hippos in Sierra Leone, outside of the Gola Forests in the east of the country, and probably represent the northernmost population in their range.
This work has enabled the team to work with local villagers in the area who have hunted pygmy hippos in the past. Several ex-hunters have been hired to work on the project and trained in the use of camera traps, providing them with an alternative job to hunting.
The work has also provided the opportunity for the team to talk with villagers explaining to them the importance of the pygmy hippo and that they are close to extinction. One village in particular has responded to this very positively and declared that there should be no hunting of pygmy hippos by anyone in the village and that no hunting at all take place in the areas where they are most numerous. The project team hopes neighbouring villages will follow suit as they spend more time working with them.