Sapo National Park, located in south east Sinoe County, is Liberia's first national park. The largest remaining part of the Upper Guinean forest ecosystem, it is the second largest area of primary tropical rainforest in West Africa. It was formally designated in 1983, and then extended in 2003 at the end of civil war, to its current size of 697 square miles.
The Upper Guinean Forest Ecosystem has been described as a biodiversity hotspot that contains high species diversity, and Sapo National Park represents one of the most intact forest ecosystem in West Africa. It has been selected as Liberia’s first UN REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) pilot area. Many unique and rare species to have been found in the park include pygmy hippos, forest elephants amongst other rare birds and mammals.
The park is relatively flat and marshy, comprising of lowland swamps and rainforest, making it an ideal habitat for pygmy hippos to flourish. It has a tropical climate, with temperatures between 22-28°C and a wet season from May to October.
In 2003 a new initiative was established for management of the park in order to develop support among local communities and recognise and foster Liberia’s conservation capacities. Activities such as farming, construction, hunting, logging and human settlement are now prohibited in Sapo National Park.
Despite protected area status, peace has brought new threats as people have looked to the resources within Sapo National Park, and illegal mining and hunting for bushmeat has soared in the last eight years. Environmental damage, polluted waterways and de-forestation all contribute to undermining the integrity of the forest which, once a continuous landscape, is becoming more fragmented blocks. Human settlement and logging, although also illegal activities within the park, are on the rise, and are major contributing factors to the degradation of the park.
Sapo National Park remains relatively inaccessible to outside visitors. There are no roads or trails within the park, and there are almost no facilities for visitors. Consequently, this significant and environmentally rich area remains somewhat unpenetrated by researchers and tourists.