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More People Flee Elephants


Top: A pair of elephants in Grand Gedeh. The DayLight/Harry Browne

By Mark B. Newa

GBARMA, Gbarpolu – In June, Boakai Momo and 14 other members of his family fled the Bongomah village from a herd of elephants.

The elephant had eaten his rice and potato farms, turning the once flush greenery into dirt in one night.

“There is no more safe area to make farm,” Momo tells The DayLight in an interview at his refuge in the town of Zuo.  “People want to make farms but when the elephants start coming, they will make things hard for us.”

Momo says more than a hundred people have fled their villages from the invading elephants, something other displaced farmers corroborate. Three of the five clans in Gbarma Chiefdom, according to  Paramount Chief Henry Cooper, have been affected. Among the affected villages are Bongomah, Gbengar, Gbarlomehn, Jarjuah, Todeemehn and a place locals call Africa.

All the victims have the same story as Momo’s. An elderly woman named Fatu Lomehn, a widow and mother of 12 children and grandchildren, ran from the Gbarlomehn. Morris Tarweh, a young farmer abandoned the Yarjuah village because the elephants made it “scary.” George Anderson of the Torgboima clan, fled with his family to a new location when the herds damaged eight acres of cassava.  Abraham Clarke, a father of six, fled Africa to Daniel village and then to Zuo.  

A sanctuary—for now

Zuo might be a sanctuary for the displaced villagers. The largest town in that region, with the bulk of its estimated 1,900 people are farmers.  However, it is also not safe from the herds.  In fact, they have already begun visiting farms here.

Townspeople in Zuo are worried.  Some of them had just finished plowing their farms when elephants ravaged them in late June.  A week earlier, the herds had ravaged a farm about a 30-minute walk from Zuo.

The elephants travel from the Bopolu District and cross the Maher River to their communities and back each year, locals say. In the last five years or so, the tuskers have, however,  frequented their daily and nightly raids.  A trail of footprints and elephant dung is seen on one potato and rice farm. Two farmsteads are abandoned.  

“They are getting closer to us now. When they cannot find food there, they will enter on us in this town,” says George Anderson, a farmer. “This is their eating place now.”

Elephants eat according to their bodies. The animals eat up to 169 kilograms (375 pounds) of food daily, according to experts. Fruits, vegetables, grasses, leaves and roots form a big part of their everyday menu.

Experts blame farming, hunting and mining for what they call the human-elephant conflict.  

“When the villagers are making farms on the elephants’  tracks, we will see them appearing,” according to Raymond Kpoto of the Society for the Conservation of Nature Liberia (SCNL).

Elephants dumped their dung after eating from a potato farm that lies less than a kilometer away from Zuo, a town located between Gbarma and Weasuo. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa
Villager and his grandson holding the residue of rice the passing herds of elephants have eaten. The herds ate off the fresh green leaves of a rice field. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

There is an atmosphere of insecurity in Zuo due to the elephant situation. Villagers are afraid to go into the forest, affecting farming and other activities.  

Recently, one farmer who had gone to harvest palm fruit sat in the tree for nearly six hours, Clarke tells me in a phone interview.

Motorcycle taxi drivers are afraid to ply the routes for fear of encountering the animals, with few plying the routes, according to villagers.  

This has led to a surge in the costs of rice, gasoline and transportation, locals say.  

No Compensation

Villagers say they have used other means to cope but all seem not to work. They clang pots, blow horns and burn pepper. Some have even installed solar lamps on farms but not enough to drive away their unwelcome tusked guests.

In the first quarter of this year, the Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO), a German NGO, successfully tested a device with the sound of honeybees. In the video posted to the NGO’s website, an elephant is seen walking away after hearing the buzzing sound of honeybees from BuzzBox. However, villagers in the region say they have no idea about the technology.

Satta Mambu, an influential woman in Zuo, urges the government to set up a program to help them repel elephants.

“When the government [does] not come in, in the next four to five years, the elephants will drive us from here,” Clarke says.

There is no compensation for villagers who have lost farms to elephants, according to Saah David, national coordinator of REDD+ at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA). REDD+ means Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.  

Melvin Goeh, a ranger at FDA’s checkpoint in Sawmill, says his unit is not aware of the elephant situation in the region. Sawmill is less than 10 kilometers away from Zuo.

Alfred Bai Commissioner of Gbarma District, says his office is not aware of any elephant situation. He promises to follow up on the matter.

Funding for this story was provided by Wild Philanthropy with the support of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

People Flee As Elephants Destroy Homes and Farms Searching For Food


Top: Elephants have roamed towns and villages in Grand Cape Mount County in the last five years. The DayLight/Harry Browne

By James Harding Giahyue

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series on the human-elephant conflict in Liberia.

GBANJALA, Grand Cape Mount County – Daniel Sando and his family live in a roadside house on the route to Lofa Bridge. The other people who lived here moved to other communities after elephants overran their farms for several years.  

“People have been migrating that is why you see the town poor like this. If I can assume, more than 50 people have left the town,” says Sando, a resident of Gbanjala in the Gola Konneh District. He used to be a farmer but years of loss of his crops turned him into a charcoal maker.

“[The people who have left] have been advising us to leave but we don’t want for government to see that people [are] migrating,” Sando tells The DayLight at his charcoal worksite.

Evidence of the elephants rampaging lay bare in Gbanjala. There are trampled potato gardens, uprooted orange and mango trees with stripped barks, and even the ruins of a  mud-brick hut.

The same thing is playing out in Norman Village, a few miles away. Families have pulled out of the community, including one earlier this year, according to residents.

Varney Gopee, an elder of Manna Clan in the Gola Konneh District, whom people call “town owner,” arrives. Gopee takes my motorcycle-taxi driver and me to his farms—actually, the ruins of his farms.

Drone shot of Gbanjala in Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County, a frontier of the human-elephant conflict in Liberia. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

In no time, we get to damaged farms that are divided by an old road leading to Bo Waterside. Gopee guides us on a tour of the one on our right, the one with more “devastation.” Loads of elephant dung decorate foliage of uprooted plantain and banana bushes and pineapple plants.  The towering mammals had raided Gopee’s farms just days earlier.  

“The people who fled the village did so because of the same devastation,” Gopee says. He holds up an elephant dung he picked up minutes earlier beneath a few remaining plantain trees.  He says the family had relocated to a place called Morgan Farm.  

“They said they cannot live here without farming because that is their livelihood,” Gopee adds.

Varney Gropee, an elder of Manna Clan in Grand Cape Mount’s Gola Konneh District, holds up an elephant dung in the remnants of his farm in Norman Village. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Gbanjala and Norman villages might be two of the most recent settings elephant ravaging of villages. However, Grand Cape Mount County has been a frontline for years of what conservationists call the human-elephant conflict. Media reports suggest the earliest incident of the crisis may have occurred in 2005, and the situation intensified in the last five years.

There are no official casualty figures so far. However, several persons and elephants have been killed, a great number of crops eaten or crushed, and homes damaged. Varguay and Gbanjala are on the front. Benduma, Mafala, Managodua, Kpelle village and Bassa village feature high on the list. Conservationists say there are between 350 and 450 elephants in the region.

‘They came too soon’

Varguay, also in Gola Konneh, is likely the hardest-hit community. The herd of elephants has eaten mango trees and munched on the barks of other trees. The farms around the town and backyard gardens feature regularly on their menu. The annual destruction of their crops has compelled farmers to become miners. Some of its residents now work as casual laborers elsewhere. Others have sworn to never return, according to Manna Jallah, the town chief of Varguay. He says a family had seen a herd of the tusked, unwelcomed visitors a few days ago in their garden. 

A villager displays a cassava shrub elephant uprooted in November 2019 in Varguay, Grand Cape Mount County, probably the hardest-hit community in Liberia’s human-elephant conflict. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


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“Some people are going to the other town called Gohn,” Jallah says. “They [left] the whole Varguay and they’re living there. About 20 people have moved.”

It turns out, Mafala and Benduma are rivaling Varguay for the unfortunate profile of the battlefields this year. Though elephants have visited these communities before, residents have seen them regularly this year.

“When they came they passed through the river and entered the farm,” says Aaron Quaye, a 40-year-old farmer in Benduma in the Porkpa District.  The   Mafa River separates his plantain farm from Mafala. The elephants have visited Quaye’s farms three times a year, crushing pepper and garden eggs in pursuit of plantain and banana trees. The herd leveled the crops to the ground on its third visit there.

“I am worrying this year,” he adds.

Mary Johnson, 59, Quaye’s neighbor, suffered the same fate. A herd of elephants ravaged her farm in Mafala three days ago, and a friend spotted them again this morning. “And they get a certain system in them when they eat your food…, they will dig some and park it for you just like a human being,” Johnson says.

But Johnson’s farm is not the worst hit in Mafala. It is Oretha Garhanah’s. When Garhanah saw a pile of cassava two days ago, she feared someone had stolen her crops. She cried out loud, calling the attention of adjacent farmers. It was after another farmer spotted an elephant dung that she realized it was the giant-sized mammals. They had paved a road through the farm, trampling her crops.

“This year [they came soon],” Garhanah tells me at her farm next to Johnson’s. “In previous years, it came during harvesting time or rainy season time.”

Garhanah is just one of many farmers in that area whose farms the herd damaged. Elephant dungs decorate the remnants of the farms. There are more crushed crops than standing ones on the farm belonging to a woman named Adama Kromah. The same goes for Junior Brownell, Momo Smallwood and Arthur Sackie. The elephants left behind their footprints in a swamp nearby Sackie’s farm.

Aaron Quaye, a farmer in Benduma, Grand Cape Mount, stands on his farm a week before a herd of elephants cleared it in search of food. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Farms’ ruins and locals’ accounts match the behavior of elephants, which eat up to 375 pounds of food daily. An adult elephant can drink up to 55 gallons of water in less than five minutes, according to Sea World Parks, a U.S.-based park company established in 1959. Elephants are also fond of mud, which they use for protection against the raging sunlight and parasites such as bugs and ticks.

Dung, Despair and  Death

Years of elephant disturbances have led to anger among villagers. In a meeting in early 2022, a preacher put elephant dung on the table for government officials to smell. Rev. Francis Pratt was angry that the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) had allegedly failed to protect them from the elephants.

Oretha Garhanah points to elephant dung on her farm in Mafala in Gola Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

“The feces were right on the ground I took it and I said, ‘See—this the odor—how stink it is?’” Pratt recalls. “‘You can see we’re bearing this and then every day you say you’re coming.’”

There is currently no official policy to address compensation for villagers who have lost properties in the conflict. Abednego Gbarway, the head of the FDA’s wildlife department, did not respond to emailed questions. Saah David, the national coordinator of REDD+, says the FDA is working with actors in the sector to mitigate the human-elephant conflict in the country. REDD+ means reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation among other things.

The Pratts’ misfortunes typify the casualties of Varguay in this crisis. After leaving farming in 2018, Rev. Pratt started backyard gardens but the elephant pursued them. His mother, Yassa Zaza now lives in Monrovia, conceding to years of loss of her crops. His daughter, Famatta Pratt, and her husband, James Mulbah, also experience regular raids on their gardens. Like her father, Famatta Pratt has been outraged.

“I will kill the elephant so that they can put me in jail, and feed my children,” an angry Famatta Pratt told me in 2020. “That is the only way they will come to our rescue.”

That feeling resonates with many farmers here, among them George Fayiah, a 28-year-old farmer in Mafala. He lost a large farm with rice, pumpkin, corn and cassava overnight. “If no way for [the FDA] to help us, then we will find means to get rid of [the elephants],” Fayiah says.

Such threats could be more than rants, as people have been killing elephants in Liberia for decades. In 2018, an elephant killed a man named Simeon Henry near Varguay. The clinic next to the Pratts’ residence announced him dead upon arrival. The following year, an elephant reportedly wounded by a poacher killed an elderly man in Gbarma, Gbarpolu County. In October 2021, two men allegedly killed a pair of tuskers in Lofa, according to the Liberia News Agency (LINA). LINA also reported two years earlier that police arrested a hunter for “killing” four around the Sapo National Park in Sinoe. Liberia has banned the killing of elephants in a move to protect the animals. Offenders face up to US$10,000 or a maximum four-year prison term.

Hunting elephants alongside logging, mining and agricultural activities that encroach on elephants’ territory are root causes of the conflict, according to conservationists. They have contributed to the reduction of the elephant population in Liberia, other parts of Africa, and Asia. As the result, African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are now critically endangered.

“There are too many human activities in the forest,” says Dr. Tina Vogt of the Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO). The German NGO based in Liberia works in the region,  which hosts a bevy of mining licenses and logging contracts and a horde of artisanal loggers. It has trained 296 farmers

“We need to give the animals a rest and the space,” Vogt adds.

Goat, Horn and Honeybees

Locals say they have tried several methods to drive the elephants away but have not succeeded. Farmers have burned old tires and peppers, clanged pots, beaten drums, blown horns and bleated like goats.

People here believe bleating like a goat can scare away the elephants. Local legend has it that a goat defeated an elephant in an eating tournament way back, with the latter fearing the former ever since. The elephant, the story goes, finished up a huge pile of food in no time. The goat, on the other hand, kept chewing effortlessly up to the next morning and was declared the winner. However, as interesting as the story is, it appears, the elephants of Grand Cape Mount place their survival above any folklore. 

Elephant raids are taking a toll on livelihood in towns and villages, farmers say. The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of Liberians depend on agriculture. Amid climate change, the elephants’ raids make it much harder for rural communities to survive.  

“Elephants have spoiled all these things,” says Mammy Liberty of Bassa Village, who lost an eight-acre rice farm earlier this year. “I have three children; they dropped from school because I have no support.”   

An old artisanal mine along the Mafa River in Porkpa District, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Vogt says farmers may need to understand the problem better. In 2021, ELRECO started a program in northern and western Liberia and has now trained nearly 300 farmers in human-elephant-conflict mitigation methods. She says the methods have proven to work, and if they do not work, it is mostly because the methods are not applied correctly and persistently. She added farmers need to apply the elephant-repelling methods better, adapt to living with the animals as they do with other animals, and change their way of farming.

“They need to apply these methods seriously,” Vogt, whose NGO works with farmers in Gbanjala, tells me in a WhatsApp interview. “The animals are precious, it’s a problem both for humans and the animals.”

A piece of good news for the farmers, ELRECO has found the sound of honeybees repels elephants. A YouTube video shows an eating elephant leaving a location in Gbanjala after hearing a buzz from a device. Elephants may be giants but they are afraid of insects, Vogt says.

“We hope to come out with some very affordable sets of this audio device then we can release out on bigger scale to the farmers that they can deploy them on their farms,” she says. “It’s a very small tool and it’s easy to use also.”

Funding for this story was provided by Wild Philanthropy with the support of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.

Test Shows Device with Honeybees Sound Drives Away Elephants


Top: Men install BuzzBoxes at a farm. Picture credit: Elephant Research and Conservation

By Mark B. Newa

MONROVIA – For years, villagers mainly in northwestern and southeastern Liberia have lost their crops to invading elephant herds. This makes it difficult for farmers to feed their families and meet other needs.  

Now, conservationists working in Liberia have found that a device armed with the sound of honeybees can repel elephants. The scientists from the Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO) tested the audio device in Gbanjala, a town in Gola-Konneh District, Grand Cape Mount County.

Video footage posted on YouTube shows an elephant stopping to eat when it hears the buzz of insects placed in the mounted device. In a few seconds, the animal folded its trunk, hurriedly took a few steps backward and raced away.   

“It is the first time we test this device now in West Africa, seeing that it really works to have this evidence that it really works,” Dr. Tina Vogt, ELRECO’s technical director, told The DayLight in an interview.

“At the moment we [are] extending the testing phase so we work together with some Liberian entrepreneurs to improve a bit on the censor, the mechanism, the release mechanism,” Vogt added.

ELRECO, a German nonprofit based in Liberia, is currently testing the device in Liberia. It is collaborating with Save the Elephants (STE) to deploy the BuzzBox. It costs around $100, the New York Times reported.  STE is a UK-registered charity based in Nairobi, Kenya.  

Elephants Raid Farms Around Proposed Park


Top: A pair of elephants traveled from Guinea through towns and villages in Nimba County then to Grand Gedeh County, Cote d`Ivoire, and back to Guinea in 2022. The DayLight/Harry Browne

By Mark B. Newa

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories on the human-elephant conflict in Liberia.

ZUIE, Gbarpolu – Villagers around the Proposed Foya Park first spotted elephants in the area around 2018. Some five years on, the elephants are destroying farms and posing a threat to the villagers’ existence.

“The elephants always come to our farm and eat the things that we are planting,” says Sam Jah, a farmer in Tardee village in the Zuie Chiefdom of Gbarpolu County. Jah had met a herd of the towering mammals while on his way to his farm on one morning last month. He fled for his life. When he returned the following day, the herds had eaten 30 of his palm trees.  

“I am afraid for the remaining palm trees on the farm,” the 60-year-old father of five children tells The DayLight. Elephants eat grass, small plants, fruits, roots, bushes, branches and tree bark. The animals eat up to 169 kilograms (375 pounds) of vegetation daily. They used their tusks to carve into the trunk and tear off pieces of bark. Elephants spend nearly the entire day feeding on fruits and roots. Tree barks are their favorite food.

Jah’s neighbor Vannason Momo Vuyah lost plantain, rice, cassava and palm. “I am feeling bad, Vuyah says.

“They drink all of our water. “We are [compelled] to go far areas to draw water.”

Damaged crops and remnants of tree branches adorn Vuyah’s farm and other villagers’ farms. Plantain, rice and pineapple and shrubs lay bare, indicating the size of the herd of elephants.   several palm fruits the elephants had chewed are visible. Cassava leaves and roots are scattered everywhere. From a hill overlooking one villager’s farm, a dozen elephant footprints line up the swamp around Bomagonjo Creek. Villagers say the creek never ran dry until the elephants, which drink between an estimated 26 and 55 gallons of water in less than five minutes, arrived.  

Six villages have been affected in the crisis,  extending beyond Yanwayeh, a neighboring clan near the Liberian-Sierra Leonean border, villagers say. The elephants are threatening this year’s farming season, which starts in December and ends in May. With the elephant situation and two months to the close of planting, farmers fear a bad harvest.

A herd of two elephants in Grand Gedeh County in 2022. The DayLight/Harry Browne

“When I pay the koo to work on my farm, the elephants will disturb the workers and all of them will run back to town,” says Varney Sheriff, a farmer with four children from Gongodee village. “No one wants to be attacked by the elephants.” A koo is a cooperative of farmers. A number of farmers can form a koo or hire one.   

Hawa Jah, a mother of six children and five grandchildren from Senkpen village, is worried. “Let the government people help us with food. The elephants are not giving  us chance to make our farm to support our families.”

“We are not making farms as we used to do. We can only go there to do small work and come to the village. People in this town have refused to go on my farm to work because of the elephant’s business,” said Varney Sheriff.  

Sheriff and others have tried different methods to drive away the herd. They clang pots, hit hollow sticks on tree roots and blow horns. They even burn peppers to scare away the elephants. But none has worked.

Elephants’ dung in a pineapple farm in Mafala, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue
A mount of elephants’ dung in a casava patch in Norman Village, Grand Cape Mount County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

The situation has changed the way of farming in the area, the main source of livelihood for villagers. Due to the elephants, people are not producing sufficient food, negatively impacting the villagers’ lives in many ways. It is expensive to transport foodstuff and other commodities from Monrovia to Kongbor. Twenty-five kilogram of rice sells for LS$4,000, nearly twice the price of the commodity in Monrovia.  

McGill Washington, who works in the Office of the District Commissioner, says local authorities and Forestry Development Authority (FDA) are aware of the situation but they are yet to respond. “We are asking the government and other people to come and build a fence for the elephants, they know how to control them… to put them in the park,” Washington tells The DayLight.

Root causes

Zuie is close to the proposed Foya Park, which covers 164,000 hectares of forestland between Gbarpolu and Lofa.  The population of elephants in the northwestern region is approximately 350 to 450, according to a German nongovernmental organization based in Liberia, Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO). The figure is about a quarter of the country’s elephant population. Villagers hunt, farm and mine on the fringes of the rainforest.  Years of poaching for ivory, and loss of habitat, have left the African forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis)  critically endangered.  

In Kongbor, where people in Zuie conduct their businesses, a local radio announcer makes an announcement. “No one should attack the elephants,” it goes, repeated in Gola, Belleh and Mende, the languages spoken in the region. “The animals are protected by law,” it adds. It is a reference to Liberia’s wildlife law, which imposes a prison term between two and four years or a US$5,000 to US$10,000 fine.

The farmers believe that a ban on hunting elephants has swelled their population, leaving them in search of food everywhere. Experts, however, blame people for the situation, known as the human-elephant conflict.

A villager stands under an abandoned farmstead in Zuie, Gbarpolu County. The DayLight/Mark B. Newa

“When the villagers are making farms on the elephants’ tracks, we will see them appearing,” says Raymond Kpoto, a field supervisor of the Society for the Conservation of Nature Liberia (SCNL). “When the elephants passed in a place after more than 10 to 15 minutes… and their tracks are destroyed, they roam the forest to identify their tracks.”  

Facts back Kpoto’s comments. Gbarpolu accounts for 111,000 hectares of tree cover loss between 2001 and 2021, according to the Global Forest Watch. It is the fifth county in  Liberia with the largest tree cover loss. Tree cover loss takes place when human and natural causes, including fire, destroy the forest.

Saah David, National Coordinator, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation within the FDA, agrees with Kpoto. He says the elephants were reclaiming their territory.

“The area is their own terrain and when they move about, farms will be affected and even humans will be affected,” David adds.

David says the Liberian government will support affected villagers.

“When these animals become a risk to the survival of our people who live on the fringes of the forest, then, we must find a way to avoid animal-human conflict,” David tells The DayLight.

[This story has been corrected to credit Elephant Research and Conservation (ELRECO) for the estimated elephant population in northwestern Liberia, and not Save the Elephants]

Funding for this story was provided by Wild Philanthropy with the support of the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation (EPI). The DayLight maintained complete editorial independence over the story’s content.