A research team led by scientists from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority (FDA), has captured the first records of the Liberian mongoose in Sapo National Park in south-east Liberia. The findings have been reported in the Journal of Small Carnivore Conservation.

The Liberian mongoose is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, however not much is known about its population status or range although it is thought to be declining due to extensive habitat loss and hunting for its meat.

These animals are found mainly in swamp forest and stream beds with deep, sandy soils where earthworms (their main food source) are abundant. Liberian mongooses are thought to be important ‘ecosystem engineers’, because their foraging behaviour, which turns over large areas of forest, helps to create a more varied and diverse landscape that can benefit other species.

Liberian mongoose. Credit: FFI/ZSL/FDA.

The Liberian mongoose has a dark brown body with prominent stripes on the neck and a bushy tail. Credit: FFI/ZSL/FDA.

Until now, this species was only known from north-east Liberia and western Côte d’Ivoire, and although it was presumed to occur in similar habitats in adjacent areas, previous attempts to confirm this had proven fruitless.

The new records were captured as part of a systematic camera-trapping survey conducted in Sapo National Park with the support of the Zoological Society of London and the Liberian government’s Forestry Development Authority. Other animals caught on film include the pygmy hippopotamus and forest elephants.

Pygmy hippo. Credit: FFI/ZSL/FDA.

A rare photograph of the pygmy hippo. The elusive nature of these animals makes them difficult to monitor. Credit: FFI/ZSL/FDA.

According to the paper’s authors, “These first verifiable records of Liberian mongoose in Sapo National Park provide valuable information on the distribution range of this poorly documented species.”

The find does however raise an important question; namely why so few of these animals were captured on film during the course of the study which ran from 2008 to 2012, with one to three surveys taking place each year.

Liberian mongoose. Credit:FFI/ZSL/FDA.

Liberian mongoose. Credit:FFI/ZSL/FDA.

“There are a number of possible explanations for this,” says Dr Tina Vogt, FFI’s Technical Advisor for Bio-monitoring and Research in Liberia. “It could be partly to do with the fact that the cameras are less effective at detecting smaller, faster animals as they pass.

“However even species of similar or lower size were detected more frequently, which suggests that there are other factors at play here. It could be down to behavioural differences, or it could indicate that the Liberian mongoose is quite rare in Sapo National Park,” she explains.

Sapo National Park, an expanse of lowland rainforest covering an area of over 180,000 hectares, is one of Liberia’s most intact tropical forest ecosystems and the country’s only national park. The park harbours an exceptional array of fauna and flora, including many species that are found nowhere else on earth. It provides one of the last strongholds for the pygmy hippopotamus, the West African chimpanzee and Jentink’s duiker (a type of antelope).

Fauna & Flora International has been working in Sapo National Park since 1997, and in 2001 established a long-term biodiversity fauna monitoring project in collaboration with the Liberian government’s Forestry Development Authority. However until recently, research in the south-western and north-eastern areas of the park has been restricted due to security concerns relating to armed artisanal gold miners operating in the park.

But, in 2010, most of the miners were evacuated and the biomonitoring plan has consequently been extended, with data collection set to commence in these formerly inaccessible areas.

The journal article, First records of Liberian Mongoose Liberiictis kuhni in Sapo National Park, southeast Liberiais available here (PDF).