As National Moth Week’s country coordinator for the West Africa nation of Liberia, Dr. Benedictus “Ben” Freeman has a big task ahead of him: introduce his fellow citizens to the enriching and fun experience of moth-watching.
A conservation biologist who specializes in ornithology, Ben admits that mothing had not been on his radar until recently. But, like many people whose interest in moths has grown thanks to initiatives like National Moth Week, Ben already was involved in studying and protecting the environment.
His passion for the natural world developed from an otherwise harrowing experience. During Liberia’s 14-year civil war in the late 20th century, Ben and his family sought refuge in the rain forest, foraging for food and consuming bush meat to stay alive. Years later, as a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, Ben recounted the impact of that experience in an interview with the university’s news service.
“At that time, I really didn’t know how important the forest would become for me – I saw the forest as a source of resources like food and shelter, but I developed an interest in nature there, and eventually I started studying forestry for my undergraduate degree. That actually influenced my decision to get more interested in nature and conservation.”
Prior to coming to Kansas for his Ph.D., Ben earned degrees in general forestry at the University of Liberia and in conservation biology at the University of Jos in Nigeria. Currently, he works as a technical advisor in Liberia for the United States Forest Service International Program. He is leading the rollout of a newly developed conservation curriculum at the Forestry Training Institute in Liberia.
Ben has extensive experience as a researcher, teacher and expedition leader in several fields, but he’s just beginning to share his new fascination with moths thanks to NMW team member Dr. Vijay Barve.
“I was first introduced to moths and butterflies by a friend on a camping trip,” he said. “But I didn’t act immediately after our first encounter until I was contacted by my colleague Dr. Barve to help coordinate National Moth Week in Liberia. This call spiked my interest in moths and I have started watching moths ever since.”
He and Szabolcs “Safi” Sáfián, a lepidopterist working in Liberia, will be organizing perhaps the country’s first mothing event during National Moth Week.
“We’re planning to do the launching at the Forestry Training Institute with students and hope to use this occasion to start building awareness.”