Liberia’s Sapo National Park
Sapo National Park is Liberia’s largest protected area of rainforest and its only national park. Named after the local Sapo (or Sao) tribe, the park was gazetted in 1983, covering an area of 1,308 km² (505 sq mi). The Sapo National Park Act (An Act for the extension of the Sapo National Park) on October 10, 2003 expanded the size of the park to 1,804 km² (697 sq mi).
Located in the Upper Guinean forest ecosystem, Sapo National Park consists entirely of lowland rainforest, including swampy areas, dryland and riparian forests. It represents one of – if not the most – intact forest ecosystem in Liberia. This lowland forest gives way to medium-altitude forest on the slopes and peaks of the Putu Mountain ridges just to the north of the Park. Satellite images analyses looking at the ‘edge effect’ of roads and settlement have shown that the Park is at the core of the least disturbed forest in the country, and remains reasonably connected by forested corridors to several other forest blocks to the north, west and south-east
Containing some of the largest remaining intact blocks of the threatened Upper Guinean Forest, it provides a stronghold for several globally endangered species’ including the Pygmy Hippopotamus, the West African Chimpanzee and the Zebra Duiker. Yet there appears to be astounding amounts still to be discovered about this ecosystem, with six new plant species found in one 2009 botanical survey of Sapo National Park (SNP) alone. The park is bounded to the north by the Putu Mountains and to the west by the Sinoe River.
Throughout its history, Sapo National Park has been threatened by illegal farming, hunting, logging, and mining. In March 2005, an estimated 5,000 people lived in the park, according to the United Nations Mission in Liberia. Although efforts were undertaken to remove the illegal squatters, the park was not completely emptied until late August-early September 2005. Miners gradually returned to the park, however, drawn by its abundant natural resources. In 2010, an estimated 18,000 miners were thought to be living in the park, primarily to engage in artisanal gold mining. By October 2010, most were thought to have left the park voluntarily after an intensive awareness raising campaign by the government of Liberia.