Marshall, Margibi – Julie Vanasscue is a professional zookeeper from Belgium but right now she volunteers and serves as the Director of the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary in Liberia. She says the team at the sanctuary has started touring the beach for “illegal activity.” The tour which is done twice a week is called the “Sea Turtle Beach Patrol.” It is intended to monitor both the presence of female sea turtles on the beach, which are listed as endangered species, and at the same time, monitoring illegal activities from locals who hunt the turtles.
“The eco-guards are trained to patrol the beach because it is a nesting ground for sea turtles,” said Vanassue, who added that the sanctuary serves as a haven for rescued wild animals. Like Julie, Jason Miller is also a volunteer, but his job is to manage the sanctuary. He said four species of sea turtle are native to Liberia: Olive Ridley, Green, Leatherback, locally called the sea tiger and the critically endangered Hawksbill. However, Olive Ridley and Leatherback are the only species that nest on the beaches around Marshall.
“But because of the lack of statistics, we don’t know if the Green and the critically endangered Hawksbill who are close to being extinct, could also be nesting here because all of them are found in the Atlantic Ocean.” According to Miller, when the turtles come onshore to lay their eggs, it is very common for the locals around the area to capture and kill the female sea turtle.
“They come on the shore when they are craving or pregnant; what the locals often do is that when the turtle lays her eggs, they take the eggs to sell or to eat them and then they flip the mother upside down because then she cannot reposition herself to go back in the ocean,” he explained. Meanwhile, Miller disclosed that the benefits of not killing the sea turtle is that it forms a part of the food chain of the ocean and without them, there are some species like fishes that will either live or become extinct.
“So depending on the species, some of them consume jellyfish, which are very dangerous; some can kill and so they[sea turtles] control that population so that they don’t get too much and cause chaos and some of the turtles eat the grass on the seafloor and so they control that, which helps control the population of fish; if the grass are grazed it makes better nesting ground for fishes,” he said. Every Friday and Saturday in the evening, the sea turtle patrol starts from a fishing village around the Caesar beach area, before Libassa, and ends at a place near Marshall called Shell village. Lisa Antoune and her husband are co-founders of the wildlife sanctuary, which they started 10 years ago.
“We used to receive animals from different people – Liberians and expatriates – because they didn’t know how to take care of the wild animals at home. When they left the country for holiday, they didn’t know what to do or where to keep the animals, plus wild animals can’t be kept in the house forever,” Antoune said.
She explained that it was because of the passion they had for animals that made them start the sanctuary without prior knowledge of attending to wild animals. Adding that the goal of the sanctuary is not to keep the animals but to receive the animals out of danger where they risk being eaten or sold by the locals.
“We did not know anything about animals, but because we wanted to take care of them, we found out that we could do a partnership with the FDA and eventually emerged as an NGO.” However, Antoune states that one of their biggest challenges is funding to ensure that the sanctuary is efficient and sustainable.
“We have to put the animals in quarantine, we treat their injuries as much as we can and eventually release them back into the wild, so that’s why we need transport and logistics with a lot of coordination. All these things require a budget and we are grateful to the European Union, Human Society among others for the help so far,” she stressed.
Since 2017, more than 3,000 animals have come into the sanctuary and about half of that number have been released back to their original habitat. The remaining animals have either passed away or they are still at the sanctuary serving as the ambassador of their species. Culled Alline Dunbar/FPA
Main Photo: Sea Turtle, Lonely Planet