Our study on the pygmy hippopotamus takes place on Tiwai Island, a 12 km2 island on the Moa River in southeastern Sierra Leone. Ranked as one of the most impoverished countries in the world (180 out of 182 by the United Nations Development Program), Sierra Leone is still struggling to recover from a decade long civil that devastated the country. With a high infant mortality rate, low literacy rate, and overall bleak poverty level, conservation tends to take a backseat to more pressing issues. However, wildlife and forests are vital to the daily lives of Sierra Leone's people for the ecosystem services they provide and potential tourism and research opportunities. All of these factors can improve the economy and buffer the effects of global climate change as detailed in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005).
Preliminary results suggest that pygmy hippos use Tiwai Island as potential refuge, making this an ideal location to develop our techniques; anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a core pygmy hippo population. Furthermore, adjacent local communities take pride in their protected reserve. However, the areas surrounding Tiwai Island are in immediate peril of habitat destruction through deforestation from agriculture and timber.
Field Team Photographs
Tiwai Island has both a visitor center and a researching station. The visitor center is equipped with solar electricity, showers, flushing toilets, cold drinks (sodas and beer), a cooking area, tents with mattresses, sheets and pillows, and a communal area with tables and lounge chairs.
There are 8 host communities for Tiwai Island that share in the annual visitor fees generated by tourism revenues. Villages use these funds for community development activities such as school building and community meeting areas.