Canopy Reforestation Program
Rebuilding forests, saving ape lives, and helping to reduce climate change
What was once the Orangutan Tree Project has now transformed to encompass all apes and primates in our Focal Regions, through GLOBIO’s Canopy Reforestation Program. This program strengthens existing reforestation efforts through our Program Partners by providing new funding opportunities and media documentation. More than just a tree, each seedling is a piece of the rainforest puzzle, growing stronger forests for greater apes and improved local community conservation schemes. GLOBIO’s Canopy Reforestation Program is yet another way we can further connect species, people, planet.
New Forest, New Home
Deforestation and fires across Borneo have stripped orangutans of their forest homes. African Lowland Forests are being fragmented and disappearing into the sunset, further isolating chimp, gorilla, and bonobo populations.
Within each region, GLOBIO is engaged in:
- Planting indigenous, tropical rainforest trees
- Giving Great Apes and other unique species a new, secure tropical rainforest home
- Employing local villagers to collect seeds, nurture seedlings, and plant and protect the new forest
- Limiting climate changing by ensuring carbon stays sequestered beneath this new forest in the peat, not released into our atmosphere
- Trapping more carbon and other gases by repopulating tropical rainforest trees
- Creating global awareness through original media segments to encourage folks around the world to learn and donate
Updates from the Forests
Rescued baby chimps have arrived at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary twice in the past while our GLOBIO cameras have been here. Twice we have had a chance to tell the world, through the video and photos we create, about the tragedy of poaching. Twice we have helped Tacugama share with the world the chaos and pain of a little life taken from its mother, its family. And twice we have helped tell Tacugama to tell their amazing story of saving, caring, and rebuilding lives. What we haven’t been able to do is tell the story of the other 28 rescues since last we were here.
The reality is we cannot be here 24/7, 365 days a year. Training fresh eyes and new perspectives on the ground in the places GLOBIO is working, like Sierra Leone, is needed. To save apes, primates, and the forests, that training – capacity building – is critical. It has become a vital component of our mission. Training those new visions and voices has become one of our core goals, and is at the heart of our communication and awareness efforts to connect species, people, and the planet.
The past weeks have been just that here at Tacugama: lights, cameras, (drones), … capacity building. Several times a week, at 7:30 am sanctuary guides Alfred and Noah, and assistant Conservation Manager Naomi, meet at what we affectionately now call the TCS Helipad, for UAV (drone) flight training. With a DJI Mavic Pro Zoom 2 that will be staying behind with them here in Sierra Leone, we are teaching the trio how to fly, film and map. All are powerful survey tools in telling the conservation story of the Critically Endangered Western Chimpanzee GLOBIO is partnering with Tacugama to tell. The chimp is the flagship species to the survival of the West African lowland rainforest on which it, and other incredible species like the pygmy hippo and rare White-necked Picathartes (bird) depend. That same forest is the future of the people of Sierra Leone, protecting essential water resources; and as we have just seen and heard from global leaders gathered at COP26, keeping those forests healthy and intact is the key first step to our planet’s climate crisis from escalating any further.
How do we change the way we tell the world our stories?
It starts with white, affluent visiting westerners not being the only storytellers. Whether under the label of conservationist, researcher, filmmaker, journalist, it doesn’t matter, other voices and visions need to be equal partners in the storytelling. GLOBIO has long recognized the critical need to train and inspire authentic local storytellers. Since we cannot be here every day, where we play the most powerful role is collaborating to build local storytelling capacity. Let’s be honest, “capacity building” isn’t very sexy. It doesn’t rip at heartstrings and purse strings like a baby chimp face staring woefully with large chestnut eyes. But training in filmmaking, editing, radio programs creation, audio recording village songs, voices, traditions, and developing communication strategic plans are the backbone of telling the world about not two, but all 28 of the rescues made, and why it keeps happening, and how together we can stop it. This onsite content-creation capacity has further ripples – as Sierra Leoneans, Alfred and Noah can speak to their fellow countrymen in their own language – both literally and proverbially. Crafting pieces that Tacugama can use in Krio, Temne, Mende, and other languages will reach a wider, local audience to better engage them in all aspects of chimpanzee conservation.
Back at the TCS Helipad it’s just past 9am, Alfred, Noah, and Naomi have finished a half-hour each of playing spin the drone around a large pile of rocks topped with a bottle (trust me, not anywhere near as easy as it sounds – as they have all discovered!). The training teaches techniques in subtle control of the drone and its camera, both critical for mapping chimp habitat, deforestation issues, and reforestation efforts in places like Loma National Park where Tacugama’s conservation efforts are working to protect the largest single population of Western chimps in West Africa. This morning the team got an unexpected lesson – one they can’t learn in a YouTube tutorial. While demonstrating a maneuver, I crashed the drone a 150meters away in the rainforest. With a strong location signal pulsing out from the aircraft we all went bushwhacking and found it! On the forest floor, alive and undamaged (WHEW!)
Before we depart the helipad we schedule the afternoon filming class for 3 pm at the vet clinic with Alfred and Noah. Our goal is to ensure both young Sierra Leoneans are proficient in filming, photography, and media storage before we leave next week – a bit of a tall order, even with all the hours we’ve already logged behind the lens with them! They will begin telling authentic stories from Tacugama, from Sierra Leone. Those stories will be Sierra Leonean stories. Once we return to the GLOBIO office in the USA, the content creation capacity building will continue long-distance over Whatsapp and Zoom as we answer ongoing questions, continue lessons, and review the work they create — but finding a crashed drone will be on their shoulders.
Author Note: As a filmmaker and photographer of over 30 years it has long been critical to me that GLOBIO invest in local and indigenous people telling their own stories, building the capacity for them to do so means enabling the creation of a shared vision of the world. GLOBIO’s ultimate storytelling legacy will be told by those we train and inspire.
- Gerry Ellis, GLOBIO Founder & Executive Director
The Great Travel Saga of Outamba Kilimi National Park
Last Friday, Gerry and I got back from an absolute blur of a couple of days visiting Tacugama’s most recently launched program site – Outamba Kilimi National Park. Now, Gerry may blame the travel delays on me because apparently doing an excited little dance and saying I was ready for adventure is the same as tempting fate…we’re agreeing to disagree on that front. But anyway…here’s the tale:
The team – Bala, Aram, Paul, Bokori, Naomi, Leeon, Gerry, and myself (along with two drivers and a couple of other folks we picked up along the way) were joined by Isatu Harrison, a brilliant Sierra Leonean Fashion Designer and supporter of Tacugama, who hails from a town just outside the park. We set off bright and early on Wednesday morning in the two cars, packed in with enough gear and hopefully ginger nut biscuits – to tide us through the next 48+ hours.
The first few hours through Waterloo and to Makeni were smooth sailing. Leaving the green ridges of the Western Hills for something a little flatter, we stopped for a quick bite here, picking up some local cashews for a snack there. And then we turned off the tar road and things got a touch bumpier. After another solid few hours, we reached Kamakwie Number 1 (of three) to visit Isatu’s uncle’s home for lunch. At this point, Gerry and I swapped vehicles to head straight to the park with the Tacugama Outreach crew. 14 kilometers took about 90 minutes with the rough roads and a brief trip on the river ferry. Finally, as twilight settled, we reached the park headquarters and made camp for the night to ready for the main event the following morning.
A Bit about the Park
Outamba Kilimi, a set of 2 forests within designated national park boundaries, is “upline” (i.e. to the north) on the board with Guinea. These forests are critical strongholds for the Western Chimpanzees, as well as forest elephants, hippos, rare bongo antelope, sooty mangabeys, and other endemic species. Tacugama, with support from the European Union, is crafting a handful of livelihood, environmental education, and eco-guard initiatives around OKNP to safeguard the forests before they fall to the timber and mining companies. This trip was the official launch of these plans, presenting them to the local Paramount Chiefs, village elders, and community members for their support and feedback.
As of writing this, there is a temporary moratorium on all logging throughout Sierra Leone, ostensibly as a sign of environmental care from President Bio. This meant that the Rosewood timber cut prior to the moratorium lay in large piles along the roads awaiting transportation, presumably to China, whose appetite for this particular tree is voracious. Reading about deforestation is one thing, but seeing the aftermath is sobering. While on a diverted road through the forest, we came upon a rather beat-up truck with a half dozen or so young men and even more logs. Illegal to be sure.
The Main Event
The next morning, an early wake-up to grab some drone footage of the park, then a quick drive to the nearest large town of Fintonia. A sprawling village, tired around the edges, houses built of mudstone. In the last few years, because of the logging, the town has expanded rapidly like many other nearby frontier towns. Reaching the church where the meeting was to be held and what do we find? The largest pile of timber yet. Maybe ~1,5000-2,000 logs lay between the church and the three village schools. A sobering sight indeed.
After some time, and much discourse, the meeting commenced. With representation from the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA), the EU, Tacugama, and other neighboring communities, the church began to fill and fill and fill with community members. Speeches from each of the representatives (mainly in Krio and then translated line by line to Susu) were followed by an open floor for comments from the community. While excited at the prospect, many shared their experiences from countless NGOs who had stepped in previously with big promises of community benefit but no delivery. This is where Tacugama differs. They aren’t planning 2- or 3-year projects on the funders’ behalf and then walking away, but rather looking to inspire long-term, sustainable, change for the community’s benefit to complement protecting the remaining forests, and they have a track record to prove it.
Delay Number 1
The meeting, lasting about 4 hours, was a solid step in the right direction to getting started. Around 4pm, The crowd dispersed outside and we set off on the long road home. Joining us on the car ride back was master storyteller Usifu Jalloh, Kamikwie native, and world traveler, carrying out workshops and encouraging audiences of all ages to partake in his stories and to share their own. To say this man is a character is an understatement. He has a warmth and charisma that can light up the room and he certainly kept us entertained on the ride back, even getting the ferry operators singing and partaking in his tale.
Crossing the ferry back, a rather intimidating storm began to whip up. The downpour began and the roads muddied. We came up a large camion truck, axel deep in mud coming towards us up a hill. Stuck. Sitting in the car, while the rains poured down outside and the windows fogged up, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to Jurassic Park where they too are stuck in the tropical storm. Mercifully, our own story had significantly fewer dinosaurs. While trying to pass, we too got stuck until the EU representative Giancarlo drove up and towed us free. After nearly 2 hours of the drivers and road workers digging, the truck was dislodged and we headed off again. Two hours later and we are finally on the road again, stopping for fresh Poyo (palm wine) thanks to Usifu and roasted street corn. Bumpy bumpy bumpy but spirits remain high.
Delay Number 2
By 10:30 pm we were finally off the dirt track and back on the tarred road… only to be stopped again after a couple of hours with a flat tire. Do either of the two spares in the car fit? Nope. The driver, Mr. Ba, takes the flat with him and a taxi driver for repair in Makeni, about an hour away. While waiting outside and admiring the sky full of stars, another whip of wind and the drops begin to fall. We all load back into the jacked-up vehicle as steady as a surgeon and wait for driver Mr. Ba’s return as another torrential downpour carries on. We fended up rolling into the sanctuary around 4 am on Friday morning, just a tad later than anticipated.
Well, with this post getting as long as the trip itself, it’s time to get packing for our next set off bright and early tomorrow morning to Loma Mountain National Park. While I won’t go asking for any adventure this time around, we’ll see what sort of excitement finds us. Stay tuned for updates…
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”.
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.
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