Blog: Tacugama, more than a sanctuary

Posted: 29th November, 2023

Tacugama writes about their work within and beyond their sanctuary in Sierra Leone: 

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the Western chimpanzee as Critically Endangered, which means if prompt measures are not taken to reverse this reality, the western chimpanzee might go extinct in your lifetime; yes, you reading this article now! West African countries like Benin, Togo, and Brukina Faso have already lost their chimpanzee population. If there aren’t any policy reforms that are backed by effective law enforcement, Sierra Leone could also become a victim of such a devastating loss.

We currently care for a hundred and seventeen (117) western chimpanzees; some of our resident chimps have been with us for over 20 years, we’ve watched them grow, watch them go from one rehabilitation stage to the other - some came to us barely clinging to life. It is a true joy to see them thrive within the groups they’ve formed, among the individuals they’ve learned to accept as family. Considering how territorial Chimpanzees are, it is truly incredible to witness their daily interactions with their friends and frenemies because regardless of how heated things get, and things do get very heated sometimes, they always makeup within a few minutes and just go back to their usual grooming, lounging selves.

If you were to go around asking all sanctuary staff which is their favourite chimp, you would notice their eyes light up, and a reluctant smile grow on their faces as they go on and on, without even noticing it, about which chimp is their favourite and why. Maybe, as humans, we can’t help but be fascinated by chimpanzees; maybe it’s because they are our evolutionary cousins, and we share 98.6 percent of our DNA with them. Whatever the reason might be, the chimps under our care have grown to be more than just chimpanzees waiting for the day they will be reunited with the untamed wild. They are ambassadors now, ambassadors for their wild counterparts, the forest, and all that live within it.

Tacugama officially started operations almost three decades ago, with the original aim of rehabilitating orphaned chimpanzees and enforcing wildlife laws; today, added to these are several other things that Tacugama does. Over the years, Tacugama has evolved to become much more than a sanctuary.

Tacugama constantly engages in outreach, education, research, and conservation programs. Through close collaboration with line ministries of Sierra Leone, the chimpanzee was declaired the country’s National animal in 2019. What’s even cooler is that as of the beginning of 2023, a graphic of the chimpanzee was included in all Sierra Leonean passports.

Even though our sanctuary is nestled within the Western Area Peninsula National Park, about an hour’s drive from Freetown’s business district, our outreach programs stretch to the farthest cardinal corners of Sierra Leone, touching lives and changing realities as we go. Thanks to our livelihood support in some areas known for excessive poaching, we now have success stories detailing the conversion of hunters to eco guards and biomonitors, which means more wild chimps are protected in those areas. We are also committed to educating the young ones about conservation, our Mama P and King Bruno books are a favourite among kids in the schools part of our Tacugama Kids Environmental Education Program (TKEEP), and it warms our hearts to see how keen the young ones are to learn about conservation and how excited they usually are to get involved. In their own way, they motivate us to keep going.

Yes, our cars still get stuck in thick pools of mud for several hours during outreach trips; yes, we still face a lot of challenges with land encroachment in the Western Area Protected National Forest; yes, we still find ourselves in life-threatening situations when we carry out chimp rescue missions, but none of that will ever stop us from carrying out our mandate, we have survived a civil war, an epidemic, and a global pandemic, we will keep surviving, we will keep fighting for sustainability and conservation, we will keep working towards finding a suitable reintroduction location for our resident chimps, so one day, they too will live wild and free.

We certainly have come a long way, but we still have agreat task ahead of us, and we need a lot of resources to carry them out, from ranger equipment, to fuel for our vehicles, to food and medication for the chimps. Even though tacugama was established by the government of Sierra Leone, we do not receive government funding, therefore we depend on the support of people and organizations that believe in the work we do. To help Tacugama carry out our operations and protect the critically endangered western chimpanzee, you can either make cash donations, help us buy an item on our amazon wishlist, or become a guardian to one of the thirteen chimps on our guardianship program. Head over to our donation page https://www.tacugama.com/donate/ and find out more, you might just end up volunteering with us.

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not necessarily a reflection of BIAZA's positions.