Two Week Travel Update: Exploring Beyond the Sanctuary

Many of you have asked about the landscape of Sierra Leone and where the sanctuary is located. In a word: verdant. Arriving at the ferry landing, your driver awaits to take you up to the sanctuary (yes, it takes planes, boats, and cars to get to your destination!), perhaps a 25-minute drive through the country’s capital Freetown, taking you away from the Atlantic beaches, winding up through the city until more and more lush pockets of trees pop up through the houses. Rolling hills block the ocean but make up for the lost view with their densely green forest coverage, dotted with sparse housing settlements. A quick turn off to the right and you start going up. And up. And up some more. Finally, after the last white-knucklingly steep hill, you reach finally: “Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary”.

With the park boundary visible by the tree line, it’s clear just how close folks are getting up to and into the park. Daily patrols are key to mitigating further encroachment but Tacugama is working closely with different government departments to help prevent further issues. This region is also critical water catchment to keep Freetown hydrated.

27 years ago, when Bala shook hands to start the Tacugama journey, he negotiated a very strategic location for the sanctuary – right at the mouth of the Western Area Peninsula (a few years later, with Bala’s dedication, it became a National Park – WAPNP), one of four national parks in Sierra Leone and the closest to Freetown. The Park boasts a population of wild chimpanzees, along with monkeys, duikers, forest crabs, and countless birds, bugs, butterflies, and reptiles. Tacugama’s outreach team has also set camera traps that have discovered a number of species, including the White-necked Picatharthes (Picatharthes gymnocephalus) – on Gerry’s list to see! 

Our little eco-lodges are just out of the sanctuary, nestled in the canopy, with the constant ziiiiiiiiin of cicadas and the occasional HOOTS of chimpanzees from the nearby open forested-enclosures.

This landscape is perfect for the rescued chimps – indeed the larger groups all have incredible rainforest enclosures, with trees vaulting 70-80 feet. But perhaps more critically, the presence of Tacugama in these hills has been huge in the fight to stop forest encroachment and to protect Freetown’s dwindling water supply. As the only remaining swathe of tropical rainforest in the Western Province, the WAPNP is a crucial last stand of biodiversity in this area. Rangers patrol the area regularly to mitigate any illegal encroachment activities they come upon and the weekly hiking excursions with Tacugama visitors to different park landmarks helps keep the “good” human presence in the area.

Yet the battle for the forests isn’t over. Even as well-established as Tacugama may be, encroachment is an ongoing issue as Freetown’s 1,000,000+ population continues to grow. The importance of the water catchment, the forest to mitigate climate change, and the waning biodiversity of the area are to be key themes in our Chimpanzee National Animal Campaign in the coming years to spread awareness about how much the capital needs the park healthy and intact.

Rescued Tacugama Chimpanzees sit high in their forested enclosures. With multiple hectares, these medium-sized chimp groups have plenty of space to spread out and explore.

Sitting on the front porch of my lodge, sipping coffee as an absolutely stunning male Campbell’s monkey meanders through the trees above, it’s hard to imagine this place ever disappearing. But with Tacugama’s team and ever-growing list of outreach activities, it’s a matter of keeping it up and continuing to work with the government to maintain this gem of a forest.   – Meg Stark

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