Dr Mary Molokwu-Odozi, Country and Operations Manager in Liberia for Fauna & Flora International, an EPI partner.
Did you grow up wanting to be a conservationist? Or was it a passion that you developed later, towards the end of your education?
Growing up, I wanted to be a medical doctor. That was quite common in Nigeria as children were not exposed to a wide variety of career options. I got drawn to wildlife documentaries on TV. However, my resolve to pursue conservation as a career was strengthened during my undergraduate degree in Zoology at the University of Benin, Nigeria. I was opportune to have a course advisor who supported me and fuelled my passion, introducing me to bird conservation- a field that jumpstarted my career path in conservation.
You are a woman forging a career path in what has been a very male dominated area. What challenges has that presented to you?
Culturally in my country it was not very common for a woman to work in the forest or ‘bush’, though this notion is fast changing. Secondly, there are few jobs in this field. But I had the unwavering support of family and mentors, and did a Masters in Conservation Biology and a PhD in Animal Ecology (in Jos, Nigeria and Lund, Sweden) to give me good standing in conservation, irrespective of gender.
You’ve moved from Nigeria to Liberia- is there any difference between being a conservationist in Liberia and in Nigeria?
In Nigeria I worked in a research institute, the A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), in a forest reserve in Jos. My work with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) in Liberia has established me more as a conservation practitioner. The similarity between both roles- as a researcher and conservation practitioner- is in capacity building, which has been my passion. Conservation is just beginning to take root in the West African region.
In Liberia, what is the greatest threat to those elephants that survived the war: logging and deforestation, or organised ivory poaching?
Deforestation and indiscriminate hunting (though with limited ivory poaching) are some of the biggest threats to elephants in Liberia. Forest clearance for agriculture and other activities drives increasing human-elephant interactions, which results in their persecution. This is a major challenge for the government agency responsible for the management of forests and wildlife resources in Liberia, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA).
We believe there are only a few hundred elephants surviving in Liberia- are you optimistic they have a future?
Liberia, being the country with the largest portion of the Upper Guinean Rainforest - one of the most threatened ecoregions in the world- has attracted international attention from governments and donors in recent years. This has meant increased funding for conservation. This hopefully creates an enabling environment for elephant conservation in Liberia, so the future seems bright.