There is a saying in Liberia which says, “A man is never completely satisfied if he is not honored within his own country, regardless of how many honors he receives on the outside.”
This was my immediate reaction upon receiving the Commander, Star of Africa distinction from the President of Liberia, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
I had worked directly for my country for over 20 years (1970 to 1990 as a forester and a conservationist) and indirectly for 18 years. During the civil war, I fled and became a refugee in southern California, where I worked with colleagues to maintain momentum for conserving Liberia’s remaining rainforests and restoring its conservation program once the war was over.
In 1986, Liberia established its first non-government conservation organization, the Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia (SCNL); however, it was soon disrupted and then dismantled during the war years. To maintain the SCNL’s focus on conservation, a sister non-government conservation organization known as the Society for the Renewal of Nature Conservation in Liberia (SRNCL) was established in California. The SRNCL became the main source of information on the forest and wildlife situation.
It maintained conservation momentum by publication of a quarterly newsletter called the Pepperbird, named after the garden bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus). The garden bulbul is a common bird that frequent gardens; its local name is “the wake-up bird.” The newsletter published information on the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) wildlife staff and their condition during the war, maintaining a flow of important information about Liberia’s unique biodiversity.
SRNCL made its first expeditions to Liberia prior to and after the 1997 general elections that brought Charles Taylor to power. SRNCL made several other expeditions to Liberia and succeeded in reactivating the parent organization, Society for the Conservation of Nature in Liberia. The SCNL in turn worked with the Liberian government to restore nature conservation activities at the FDA and at Sapo National Park.
Under my leadership, The SCNL encouraged the government to ratify several international environmental conventions including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The resumption of conservation activities in Liberia at the time encouraged Fauna & Flora International and Conservation International to work in the country, and I am very proud to have received President Sirleaf’s recognition for this work.
Alexander L. Peal is the Country Director for Conservation International-Liberia