“Since I’ve started working with Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, I feel like animal(s) are part of me,” Deh Jr tells CNN. “So whenever I see someone hurting (an) animal, I feel like they’re personally hurting me.”
Deh Jr joined the sanctuary when it opened five years ago and says in that time he has cared for over 70 pangolins, most of which were brought here by the Liberian Forestry Development Authority after being confiscated, surrendered or orphaned as a result of the bushmeat trade.
Many people also live in forested areas. In Liberia, there is a long history of consuming bushmeat, from primates to civets (a cat-like mammal), and pangolin is considered a delicacy. Deh Jr grew up eating the animal — something he is ashamed of today. “As a kid living with your parents you don’t have any choice, because you cannot provide any food for yourself,” he explains. “So even if you don’t want to eat bushmeat, you just have to do it.”
An international trade
But in recent years, another threat to local pangolins has emerged. Susan Wiper, director of Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, says that some people are killing the animal to supply demand from China and Vietnam, where its scales are used in traditional medicine.
Their scaly armor protects them from almost all predators — except one. “Pangolins don’t have natural enemies, except humans,” says Deh Jr. “If they get a fright, they roll into a ball, and no other animal can budge through the scales. But (that) also make it easy for humans to just pick it up and do whatever we want to do with it.”
Nonetheless, she remains hopeful that things are changing. She says the Liberian Forestry Development Authority is playing an increasingly active role in confiscating protected species that have been taken from the wild.
In the past four years Wiper says the sanctuary has taken in almost 600 animals — from pangolins to dwarf crocodiles, monkeys and others. She says the main objective is to rehabilitate and return as much Liberian wildlife to the forest as they can.
For Deh Jr, there are few greater rewards than this. “Putting it back in the wild you actually feel proud,” he says. “You feel you are moving forward because you are really saving little animals.”