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Former Southam zookeeper saving endangered animals from illegal traders in Africa

Former Southam Zookeeper Saving endangered animals from illegal traders in Africa

Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary manager Luke Brannon with Liesja – a white-bellied tree pangolin. (s)

The pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world. (s)

A potto, known as 'softly softly' in Liberia. (s)

Sweep, the sooty mangabey was kept on a rope to attract visitors to a beach, for two years. Image – Facebook

Baby African palm civets being sold roadside in Liberia. (s)

Catherine Thompson

17 mins ago

A FORMER zookeeper from Southam is fighting to save endangered animals from illegal traders in Africa.

From sharing his bedroom with the world’s most trafficked animal, to battling malaria and canoeing with a mongoose, Luke Brannon has his hands full since he began managing the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary in Liberia just two months ago.

The 30-year-old’s career has taken him from studying animal welfare and management at Moreton Morrell College and zoo-keeping in Bedfordshire, to rescuing captive bears in Asia and helping repopulate an endangered frog on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

Now he has turned his attention to West Africa.

The sanctuary – set over three acres of forest – is home to nearly 50 animals, with over 25 different species passing though since it opened around a year ago.

Luke said: “Here in Liberia, wildlife protection, although in place, is very little enforced. The scope for improvement here is enormous. Awareness, education, animal rehabilitation and enforcement are all areas that need work.

“As soon as I saw the job I applied, knowing that I could make more of a difference on such a basic level as opposed to the standards and protection we have in the UK.”

Since December, the former zookeeper has rescued a number of animals being sold on roadsides, including monkeys, antelopes, and baby crocodiles in buckets.

He has also rescued several pangolins – the world’s most trafficked animal. In some parts of the world the scales are believed to be medicinal. The toothless anteater-like creature – which had a ten inch tongue to lap up insects – is defenseless and rolls up into a ball when in danger.

Luke even shares his bedroom with three pangolins which he walks twice a day in the forest.

But not all rescue operations have had a happy ending.

Luke described the heartbreaking moment when he attempted to rescue a sea turtle which came to shore to lay her eggs. She was cruelly turned upside down overnight by traders who planned to sell her in the morning. Luke managed to rescue her but she did not survive the journey to the sanctuary.

One of his success stories involved rescuing a monkey kept on a rope at the entrance to a beach. The monkey – now known as Sweep – had been there two years and was dangerously malnourished.

Luke said: “Seeing him have his freedom was awe inspiring. He was almost immediately a different monkey, exploring, possibly seeing branches and leaves for the first time and being able to interact with other monkeys.

“The release of animals is heart-warming, with nothing else comparing to releasing a wild animal, back to nature where it belongs.”

And even a nasty bout of malaria over Christmas did not stop the wildlife warrior from his life-saving work.

“I had a high fever, really bad headaches and no energy but the job doesn’t stop when you’re ill.

“I spent Christmas Day rowing up river to release two pangolins and on New Year’s Day, I was back in the canoe with a pangolin, civet and a mongoose, all on their way home.”

And with more and more residents arriving every week, the sanctuary – which relies entirely on donations – is struggling to secure its future.

Luke added: “The more people that recognise Liberia has an illegal wildlife trade problem, the more we can utilise help from outside organisations with regard to funding, logistics and law enforcement.

“At the moment I run the sanctuary purely on donations from the general public, which is a struggle, as feeding the animals, veterinary supplies, transportation and salaries for the local Liberian staff all add up.”

Visit to donate and search ‘LiWisa’ on Facebook to find out more.


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