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
There is an old saying “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”. Trouble is, it’s not just the kitchen where we live, and now it’s not just the heat — flooding, drought, tropical storms, melting ice sheets, the intensity of extreme weather events is more frequent, more intense, and finally getting more attention out of we humans. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is convened by the United Nations, is the most certain yet, that not just the kitchen, but the whole house is too hot. The more than 200 scientists involved, poured over 14,000 climate studies, dispensed with even the slightest doubt: Earth’s climate is unequivocally changing and that humans are the cause of it, principally through emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, notably methane.
“Unequivocal” is one of the words they used, repeatedly, and the report was not shy about detailing what that will mean: For the next 30 years or longer, there will be more, hotter heat waves, longer and more intense droughts, and more episodes of heavy downpours that result in flooding. This affects the survival of all apes like us, and maybe, paying closer attention to the survival needs of those other apes would offer clarity to where we are and where we need to focus our survival energies.
Over a quarter-century ago I started wandering the planet to film what was negatively happening to great apes and their tropical rainforest homes, folks like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall told me apes and their homes were at risk, I wanted to understand that risk. If it was that dire, I needed to film it and start telling the world. I assumed I was looking for poachers, loggers, bushmeat traders, pet-trade traffickers, those responsible for deforestation. Simultaneously, unbeknownst to me, a collection of scientists sanctioned by the United Nations had collected the science to prove the risk was real and more widespread than just apes and rainforests. Vanishing apes were just one of the first outward signs of the disturbing imbalance. In 1992 they issued a warning that humans were fueling a dangerous greenhouse effect and that if the world didn’t act collectively and deliberately to slow Earth’s warming, there could be “profound consequences” for people and great apes, and the rest of life on this only known life-sustaining planet. The document was “Potential Impacts of Climate Change”. Seems the only folks paying close attention led multinational oil and gas companies. Over the next few decades, they did everything they could to ensure their financial bottom line wasn’t disrupted, and conservative politicians were eager to capitulate, enabling full denial of anthropogenic-driven global warming. Yes, fake news has been with us for decades.
This recent August 9th, that same body — now the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — issued its latest (the 16th) and most dire and direct assessment about the state of the planet, detailing how humans have altered the environment at an “unprecedented” pace and cautioning that the world risks increasingly catastrophic impacts in the absence of rapid greenhouse gas reductions. If that report wasn’t enough a bit over a week later the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their version, “State of the Climate in 2020”. NOAA’s assessment, published this week in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, draws on the work of 530 scientists from 66 countries. “It’s a record that keeps playing over and over again,” Jessica Blunden, a NOAA climate scientist who co-led the report, told the Washington Post
“The chances of unknown unknowns become increasingly large”
— Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute and IPCC Report contributor.
The irony of the new reports is that if you read between the lines you find what the facts tell us we don’t know. Much. “We don’t have any great comparable analogs in the last 2 million years or so. It’s harder for us to predict exactly what will happen to the Earth’s systems.” Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute and a contributor to the report, told the Washington Post. “The chances of unknown unknowns becomes increasingly large”. That journey I started three decades ago shared the same unknown, what was clear was what was most dangerous was what I didn’t know to ask.
Climate Chaos – Listening to the Canaries in the Global Coal Mine
For the past few years, I have been using the words ‘climate chaos’ on social media and in writings, and in public conversations. The choice of words wasn’t mine but originated in 2012 while in conversation with climate specialists and with researchers at CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research). In one climatologist’s word, “climate-changing” is wrong, it’s simply not the real issue, “it’s climate chaos”, these spasmodic, intense [weather] events our human evolved infrastructure cannot deal with. By infrastructure he meant everything from seasonal agriculture depending on predictable rains or dry periods, skyscraper HVAC systems, rail beds warping, electrical grids stressing, coastal harbors flooding, everything we humans have constructed to live the way we currently live — in toto. I was trying to understand the potential, now present, threat to great apes through climate events. More specifically, change, how much and of what kind, could gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans withstand and still survive. The changes were already being told to me anecdotally by park rangers, great ape field researchers, tourist guides, and even poachers. All had a story to tell and every one of them was concerned. These are all people who walk on the Earth every day to make a living. Their stories weren’t something read, they were recounted from the reality they, and the apes were living with. That’s when I heard one of the most disturbing sentences of the past few years: great apes are the canaries in the global coal mine – what befalls them befalls us – and they are losing. That was when I realized we were a great ape.
“They are losing” great ape numbers have dropped precipitously over the past century. The slope of their decline is nearly matches the inverse rise in the climate warming. If only we were listening to the great ape canaries we would not be in this mess I thought.
Where Each Great Ape Stands On The IPCC Report
Each of the non-human great apes faces the news in the IPCC report with varying degrees of uncertainty and prospect of loss. Across Africa, great apes already face numerous threats from habitat loss, hunting, and disease, resulting in sharp declines in populations. Now climate change is also affecting great ape survival. One study found that changing rainfall patterns are altering lowland forest and savannah ecosystems in Central Africa. To that chimpanzees might adapt to degrees, bonobos less so, for Western lowland gorillas their adaptive opportunities appear less so, and for Grauer’s and Mountain gorillas, both already looking over a precipice, the report offers no brighter horizon. For orangutans, the report can only want to make you take your durian fruit and go hide in what remaining forest hasn’t been logged or burnt. If mountain gorillas face being trapped on a virtual island, you are on two ocean-bound islands without life preservers. While non-human great apes are adaptable, increased pressure for resources inevitably will create human-great ape conflicts, which it already has, and that’s a climate conflict no great ape can win.
Chimpanzees are perhaps the best prepared to adapt to some of the changes on the immediate horizon. Of all non-human great apes, they live in the widest range of habitats and are best physically and mentally positioned to adapt to the rapid changes the chaotic weather extremes portend. “On the one hand, chimpanzees can, theoretically, adapt or migrate to new areas. But their movement is limited by growing human populations and sprawling urban areas. Human land-use patterns have already encroached on many natural habitats, and climate change is likely to increase the risks of human-chimpanzee conflict. This has already been observed in Bossou, Guinea, where there are few forested areas and chimpanzees rely heavily on farmer’s crops in times of food scarcity.” according to Matt Burnette, JGI Canada.
Bonobos are isolated south of the Congo River in central DR Congo. For the better part of 2 million years that has been an incredibly consistent tropical rainforest environment. That stability has also created an isolated island in which bonobos have evolved and flourished; their adaptability outside that forested island is unlikely at best, more likely a life sentence. Adding fuel to the bonobo’s climate survival chances, a recent study suggests climate change may be leading to population overcounts of endangered bonobos. “Imagine going in that forest … you count nests, but every single nest is around longer than it used to be 15 years ago, which means that you think that there are more bonobos [up to 50% more] than there really are,” says Barbara Fruth, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany.
Mountain gorillas are perhaps the most vulnerable. Trapped on a chain of mountain top islands in the Central African sky they literally have nowhere to run. Climate change is falling from above, and human pressure continues to swell from below. Tara Stoinski, President & Chief Scientific Officer of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund describes it succinctly, “Changes in rainfall patterns and temperatures can affect the gorillas’ food supply, cause thermal stress, increase the chance that they lose habitat to forest fires, and enable the emergence of new diseases for which the gorillas have little or no immunity. Climatic change is also likely to have a significant impact on the human populations living near the gorillas, which can, in turn, put more pressure on the gorillas themselves… as food and water supplies of local populations are affected… the already considerable pressures on the forest as a source of food and water are likely to increase even further. …between the 1980s and 2000s, we saw altitudinal shifts—a pattern often associated with climate change—in some of the key gorilla food species, as well as a 50 percent decline in the biomass of the gorillas’ most preferred food.”
Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorillas are in a similar boat to their neighboring mountain gorillas. Add to the mix rebel-driven poaching and charcoal-making deforestation and we have isolated the remaining population into scattered remnants, climate change through a combination of aridity and disease amplification could easily be the finale for the largest of all gorillas.
The orangutan trio all live on diminishing forests islands within ocean islands, their options were long ago defined by a shoreline of sand and greed. Sumatran and the newly acknowledge Tapanuli orangutans have been losing forest to palm oil at an unsustainable rate for the recent three decades. A factor that is front and center in the IPCC report. Like with their African counterparts, climate change is the unescapable layer over a compounding cumulation of events, deforestation, fires, poaching, palm oil, that may push orangutans over the edge.
Survival, as we have all discovered during the past couple of years of Covid is both physical and mental, together that becomes cultural. Not all climate change impacts are obvious. A recent study discovered that human impact erodes chimpanzee behavioral diversity. The researchers found a dramatic 88% decline in the number of natural behaviors chimpanzees showed when living near areas with lots of apes like us and diminished forests. Those behavioral changes inevitably lead to cultural shifts.
The Clock Is Ticking, But There Is Still Time
The new report leaves no doubt that we great apes are responsible for the increasing rise in global temperatures, and the resulting climate chaos, concluding that essentially all of the rises in global average temperatures since the mid-1800s has been driven by nations burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane that trap heat.
Together these impacts are flipping the switch on tropical ecosystems that have built their biodiversity on metronome-like stability. Forests like that on the tropical island of Borneo, home to the Critically Endangered Bornean orangutan have been climatically in the making for over 80 million years. Species, even those as intelligent and nimble as orangutans, can’t leave millions of years behind and take up a wetter or drier way of life. And in reality neither can we, without cocooning ourselves in a world of glass and steel and artificially controlled by air filters and conditioners.
“Not all is lost, however, and humanity can still prevent the planet from getting even hotter. Doing so would require a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050, which would entail a rapid shift away from fossil fuels starting immediately, as well as potentially removing vast amounts of carbon from the air. If that happened, global warming would likely halt and level off at around 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the report concludes.
How? You ask. The solutions are there, they have been there all along, it just depends on that one amazing strength we humans have, should we require it – resolve. History is filled with us, enough of us, being resolved to fix a problem, especially those of our own making. For decades now there has been an active and concerted effort by large corporate interests, chiefly in the oil and gas industry, to influence politicians to maintain the status quo – the profit-making status quo. Those of us living on the petroleum grid have all benefited.
Focusing our resolve is simple, it’s written in the problem: “driven by nations burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane”.
- Stop burning fossil fuels. Stop means stop. Cold turkey is never fun, ask anyone addicted to nicotine or alcohol. Shedding our petroleum addiction is not easy or fun, it will take global resolve. Like the perfect addiction, it is seamlessly pervasive, in everything from plastic soda bottles to coal-fired power plants.
- Massively reduce methane (the second most prevalent and damaging greenhouse gas) by dramatically reducing industrial meat production. About 44 percent of livestock emissions are in the form of methane (CH4).
- And maybe most critical, STOP clearing forests – period. Forests currently process 56% of the greenhouse gases we humans poison the planet with, and they do it FREE of charge!
No Time for Pixie Dust Hope
Finally, hopefully, you have read this far, maybe I should have started with this, I would like to talk about negative news. The dooming information that the media immediately embraced. was not the report’s final words. We, GLOBIO, face negative news every day, much of it reflected in the eyes of the young great apes being rescued by our project partners in Africa and Borneo; the species and ecosystem our strategic plan is focused on. To stay positive and continue believing we can make a difference, we start by acknowledging that information isn’t good or bad, negative or positive, it’s simply information. It’s what we do with it and how we use it to impact change, or conversely sit on our hands and do nothing, that makes the difference. The IPCC report is horrific, IF, we sit on our hands and do nothing, as frankly most of us have been doing. On the other hand, it is an unambiguous call to action, with a clear roadmap to change.
Why do I have hope? Because when it comes to the planet, no matter how bad things get, humanity will never lose the ability to make them a little less bad. Just say “I hope…” won’t do it. What I call pixie dust hope. But real hope, based in information and an actionable plan is real hope. We are not good at perfection. But perfect should never be the enemy of good.
That is a key conclusion of this week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. It was also the takeaway most obscured by this week’s doom-and-gloom headlines. Is climate change bad? Yes. Are many impacts already here, and irreversible (at least for centuries)? Yes. Is it humanity’s fault? “Unequivocally,” the report is crystal clear on that.
Yet the report also makes it clear that every fraction of a degree of warming makes a tangible difference to the frequency and severity of impacts we are now and will experience. Likewise, every avoided ton of CO2 emissions truly matters. That’s scary because it guarantees things will get worse if. That if is a big one, one we have full ownership of. But if is the closest thing to optimism we have, because it means every action individuals, companies, or politicians take, or don’t take, does make a genuine difference, and will continue to make a difference no matter what.
The IPCC report isn’t a death sentence. It’s a call to action. And it has one thing in common with the specter of the nuclear holocaust: Millions of lives are at stake. But “It’s never too late,” is the optimistic silver lining according to Jochem Marotzke, a research with the Max Planck Institute and researcher on the report, says. “And there is no point of no return.”
And that final point that shouldn’t be lost in all the doom and gloom is that the IPCC report also outlines a hopeful pathway forward. Taking measures now that result in robust and ongoing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can still mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. It’s not time to lose hope, it’s time to act.
Government and the corporate community undeniably have the most capacity for immediate and scalable impact, but each of us got us into this and each of us can also play a crucial role both at the grassroots level and in stimulating movement at local and regional government levels. It’s also empowering to take back a measure of control, as we have seen from the voice and action of people like Greta Thunberg, who lead by example.
That leadership starts in our daily lives. Simply put, we humans, starting now, on a global-everybody-included scale, must immediately and rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels, embrace renewable energy and overhaul how we work, eat and travel. All doable for a great ape with our amazing brain.
No room for African apes. That appears to be the verdict of a new study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions predicts massive range declines of Africa’s great apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos – due to the impacts of climate change, land-use changes, and human population growth.
Sometimes there is no sugar-coating news. But one of our strongest beliefs at GLOBIO is news is not negative, it’s merely information with which we determine if the outcome is negative or positive.
Last month, a stark warning was issued, information we ignore at the peril of all apes like us.
Information Alert: African Great Apes Will Soon Have Almost No Habitat Left, Scientists Warn
For the past half-century, the following facts have been being delivered: human population is increasing, we are consuming beyond sustainability, we are driving anthropogenic climate change, we are inflicting dramatic accelerating biodiversity loss. Great apes are the canaries in the global coal mine, and the song they are singing is clear: Humans are driving the extinction of our closest relatives on planet Earth, and if we don’t change our behavior, we may be the last ape like us standing.
Initially the worst-case scenario, researchers in the report predict a 94 percent loss of great ape habitat in Africa by 2050. Even if we get our act together before then, reducing our fossil fuel emissions and keeping ecosystems protected, models show gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos will likely lose 85 percent of their range in Africa in the next three decades. No matter which scenario ends up coming true, roughly half of all habitat loss could occur in protected areas, like national parks.
At this point, even the best-case scenario is not looking great. The protected areas we have designated for great apes in Africa simply aren’t cutting it. In fact, they are all too often being cut into. Often called paper-parks, lack of funding, lack of protection, and lack of political commitment (often undermined by corruption).
Going forward, multiple models predict all great apes in Africa are likely to experience massive range losses (Asia’s ape, the three species of orangutan have already experienced massive range loss), regardless of whether protected areas remain in place or not.
Currently, many African apes live outside of these boundaries, in areas that are particularly suitable for farming or industrial oil palm conversion.
African Great Apes in Unprotected Areas,
64 percent of mountain gorillas,
75 percent of Grauer’s gorillas
91 percent of Cross River gorillas,
80 percent of bonobos,
90 percent of Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees,
80 percent of eastern chimps, and
80 percent of central chimps.
“The fact that the greatest range losses are expected to occur outside protected areas reflects the insufficiency of the current network of protected areas in Africa to preserve suitable habitats for great apes and effectively connect great ape populations,” says Joana Carvalho,
This first-of-its-kind study quantifies the joint effects of climate, land-use, and human population changes across African ape ranges for the year 2050 under best- and worst-case scenarios. “Best case” implies slowly declining carbon emissions and that appropriate mitigation measures will be put in place. “Worst case” assumes that emissions continue to increase unchecked – business as usual.
Under the best-case scenario, the authors predict that great apes will lose 85 percent of their range, of which 50 percent will be outside national parks and other areas protected by legislation. Under the worst-case scenario, they predict a 94 percent loss, of which 61 percent will be in areas that are not protected.
Climate change, like disease, doesn’t conform to political boundaries and becomes a compound effect. As our planet warms and vegetation landscapes shift, apes like many species are slow to reproduce and require niche environments.
Such migration could also drive great apes out of protected areas, putting their populations at even greater risk. In fact, a series of new models estimate that future ranges for chimps, gorillas, and bonobos will shift mostly towards unprotected areas, which are subject to farming, mining, logging, hunting, and urban development.
We have a considerable body of evidence illustrating how we got here, but as the study highlights, “few studies have only examined future effects of climate change or human disturbances, but how future synergistic interactions among climate, land use and human population changes will affect African apes and their habitat has been largely unexplored.”
Nowhere To Run, Nowhere To Hide
While climate change will no doubt make some habitats less attractive to great apes, it can also create new habitats. A few decades however is not enough. Apes don’t breed like rabbits. Low birth rates and critical multi-year infant development mean slow population growth and slower expansion. If chimpanzees don’t shift their habitats, for instance, the new study suggests more than three-quarters of their range will be lost under future scenarios.
Gorillas may be at the highest risk, as many survive in virtual islands of habitat. Mountain gorillas (Uganda, DRC, and Rwanda) and Cross River gorillas (Cameroon), for example, have virtually nowhere else to go. Even in the best-case scenario, current models found that these two groups of great apes are likely to experience a complete loss of suitable habitat with no new suitable habitat to which they can escape.
While nearly a third of the world’s population, many the poorest, live in the tropics shared by great apes, it remains Western resource consumption that an ever-increasing threat. “The global consumption of natural resources extracted from great ape ranges is one of the main causes of great ape decline,” says ecologist Hjalmar Kühl from the Max Planck Institute. “All nations that benefit from these resources have a responsibility to ensure a better future for great apes, their habitats, as well as the people living in them by advancing a more sustainable economy.” This means looking more deeply at global conservation cost-sharing schemes. Currently, the “blockchain” economic modeling already in place in the tech industry, for example, could play a key role in accurately valuing habitats and species for their existence. It has long been seen, by humans, that a species’ value is only if it can be monetized.
Habitats Need To Be Connected
The authors of the study were clear all is not lost, but intelligent planning and action is paramount and urgent, “…habitat suitability models could help in the establishment and management of protected areas. In addition, maintaining and establishing linkages and corridors between habitats predicted to be suitable in the future will be critical for the survival of the African great apes. Land use planning and climate change mitigation measures urgently need to be integrated…” One such project in the Loma Mountains — the Loam Chimpanzee Survival Project. There GLOBIO is working with our Program Partner Tacugama in Sierra Leone to do just that: protect, reclaim and expand ape habitat by creating tree canopy corridors, and reforesting protected area perimeters where slash and burn agriculture has cause forest fragmentation.
GLOBIO’s Role In The Decade Ahead
This study doubles down on the need for GLOBIO and its Program Partners to intensify the work we are doing and have planned. The four Focal Regions outlined in our 2021-2024 Strategic Plan target the very heart of the habitat loss outlined in the study. If we don’t all commit to conserving and expanding these critical regions, by the end of the century, there’s a very real chance humans will be the only great ape left. That was the driving concern as we worked through developing a new Strategic Plan for the coming decade. Our work filming and interviewing folks on the frontline over the past decade was alarming and clear — time is critical, time is of the essence if we and all other species are to have a future that resembles in any fashion the one we have been living in.
The clearest warning sign was that the scale of change demands many hands. The days of do-good NGOs going it alone with their own ideas is over; we all have a vital stake in this. The new work will require a huge paradigm shift for many, the logos and egos need to be left at the door, and the business of repairing, replanting, and rewilding has to begin immediately alongside intelligent forward planning, long-term biodiversity sustainability priorities, and education and awareness. This isn’t 1950’s rocket science, we now know how to build rockets, send them safely into space and bring them back. Biodiversity—landscape conservation is in the 1950s, but what we did then we can do now.
GLOBIO approach is illustrated through our planning and work with Program Partners like Tacugama in Sierra Leone to protect, reclaim and expand ape habitat by creating tree canopy corridors, and reforesting protected area perimeters where slash and burn agriculture has cause forest fragmentation, develop renewable, sustainable forest buffers for utilization by local Sierra Leonians, and creating sustainable livelihoods from the health of the shared habitat. One such project in the Loma Mountains — the Loam Chimpanzee Survival Project — targets community engagement and protection of Sierra Leone’s largest single population of Critically Endangered Western chimpanzees: recently declared the national animal, the first great ape so designated by any nation.
Information in this post was drawn from the original study published in the journal Diversity and Distributions
How do we change the conservation conversation around great apes and primates? When we went searching for new program partners to support our 2021-24 Strategic Commitment that was the fundamental question that drove our evaluation of potential partners. Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, in Sierra Leone, epitomizes a near-perfect partner, ticking every key box: saving chimps through rescue and conservation of critical habitat; education and awareness on both the village and ministerial levels; and a long-term strategic vision.
For the 95 rescued orphan Western chimpanzees that call the hilltop refuge home, living in a safe, secluded, densely lush, west African rainforest sanctuary might be enough, but Tacugama is and has been since its inception, much more than a chimpanzee rescue center. Driven by the vision of its founder Bala Amerasekaran, Tacugama is not about being solely a retirement home for victimized chimps. On that Bala is clear. He sees Tacugama’s future as one synonymous
with conservation success, starting in Sierra Leone and more broadly West Africa.
That larger vision, with eyes firmly fixed on the future, was critical to us as we looked for a partnership that could best put into practice what we believe needs to be done and what needs to be changed to positively influence the survival of great apes — in West Africa that is the Western chimpanzee and its rapidly vanishing rainforest. In Tacugama we have a partner that is hungry to create change. A partner for which doing the same old, same old is not good enough. GLOBIO and Tacugama both know same old is only going to yield the same old outcome, and for Western chimpanzees that means a further slide towards the precipice of extinction.
An estimated 5,500 Western Chimpanzees remain in the rainforests of Sierra Leone. Sadly, chimpanzee meat and orphaned babies are still highly valued in illegal markets, both inside and outside of the country. The root of the poaching crisis, Bala says, must be addressed through education and community-building. That has been at the heart of the long-term master plan over the past two and a half decades.
Tacugama Turns 25
Partnering with Tacugama come at a pivotal point in both our organization’s history. In 2021 GLOBIO celebrates two-decades of education awareness and this year marks Tacugama’s 25th year. For Tacugama it is a quarter-century journey punctuated by making the Western chimpanzee subspecies, Pan troglodytes versus, the first great ape national animal in the world — alone a remarkable achievement — but also the species upon which a nation builds a foundation of valuing and responsibility for its natural heritage.
From the beginning, Sierra Leone has been an extraordinary country that optimistically embraced creating a new future. Born out of a return of free-slaves from America via Canada, and England in 1792, its capital and largest city, Freetown’s name reflects the hope of those original 3,000 emancipated slaves. The journey for an identity has been a turbulent road pitted with the potholes of political coups, disease (2015 Ebola outbreak), civil wars, and natural disasters. It’s in this cauldron of on-again off-again chaos that Tacugama was created in 1995 and has not only survived, but thrived — credit owed to its affably intense, optimistic, and determined founder.
Twenty-five years ago Bala, working with the Government of Sierra Leone, was allotted 40 hectares of land to be used as the country’s first and only chimpanzee sanctuary. Strategically, Bala located just inside the rainforest blanketed peninsula nearest Freetown: he wanted the chimp crisis to be seen.
Over the 25 years, Tacugama has become more than a chimpanzee rescue sanctuary.
“Everything [we do] starts with the chimps and transitions into wildlife conservation, research, climate change mitigation, advocacy, law enforcement, environmental education, ecotourism, youth and women empowerment, livelihoods and one health initiatives,”
says Aram Kazandjian, Tacugama’s Development Manager. An abbreviated list of Tacuagama accomplishments illustrates what foundational conservation is supposed to look like:
- Conducted the first national wild chimpanzee census in 2010; establishing Sierra Leone as a major hot spot for Western chimpanzee conservation survival.
- Safe-guarded the wild rainforest of the western peninsula ensuring Freetown’s water supplies. Through Tacugama’s efforts the government upgraded to the region dedicating it as the Western Area Peninsula National Park.
- Its community awareness and education efforts through TKEEP (Tacugama Kids Environmental Education Program) engages thousands of children in dozens of communities across the country.
- The Tacugama Community Outreach Programme (TCOP) works with 42 rural communities towards achieving sustainable natural resource management and wildlife conservation. It is absolutely necessary to support these key stakeholders if we are going to succeed in stopping the loss of biodiversity.
- Tacugama currently works with over 70+ communities and is directly involved in driving 16 of UN’s 17 sustainable development goals within Sierra Leone.
Below, Saving Chimps: Tacugama Conservation was GLOBIO’s first short video with Tacugama through our Apes LikeUs program. The video has now been seen by over 30,000 on YouTube and inside Sierra Leone.
Valuing Chimpanzees: More Than A Presidential Promise
While rescuing and saving chimps is heroic on its own, Tacugama has not stopped there. On February 28, 2019, following sustained lobbying by Bala and his team, the President of Sierra Leone sent an
unprecedented message to the people of Sierra Leone and the world by declaring the Western chimpanzee subspecies, Pan troglodytes versus, the country’s National Animal and the new face of tourism. This declaration didn’t bring an immediate halt to illegal poaching of chimps, nor the destruction of their habitat, it did create an opportunity for Tacugama; an unprecedented foundation for heightening awareness and changing the attitudes of the people of Sierra Leone. It also illustrated to the world Sierra Leone’s seriousness in valuing its wildlife and natural heritage.
Sierra Leone is a critical biodiversity hotspot in the western African region, with some of the remaining wild populations of forest elephants and Western chimpanzees. Due to the diversity of landscapes, wildlife, and cultures, the country has a high eco-tourism potential. However, unless urgent action is taken to address poaching, illegal wildlife trade, deforestation and encroachment, the survival of natural ecosystems and wildlife is compromised. In absence of an effective strategy, the pressure on wildlife such as forest elephants and Western chimpanzees, as well as the red colobus, pangolins, turtles, and many other endangered emblematic species will irremediably increase and these species will disappear. Sierra Leone must, therefore, protect wildlife within and outside of the national protected areas, review policies and legislation, and empower the field officers to enforce the law and sensitize the communities.
Sharing a Commitment to Connect Species, People, Planet
As we look at the decade ahead it is clear all great apes face a crisis: each of the four non-human great apes, and in turn, their nine subspecies, are listed as Critically Endangered. Our 2021-2024 Strategic Commitment is to do more by supporting those on the frontlines survival. Tacugama and GLOBIO are dedicated to the survival and conservation of the Western chimpanzee and its habitat across Sierra Leone.
“None of us have figured this out — how to save species and habitats, how to make that work longterm, and how to make it permanent. If we had, partnerships like this wouldn’t be critical. But through this new partnerships we (GLOBIO) and Tacugama have committed to take that journey together.” emphasized Gerry Ellis, GLOBIO’s Executive Director, “And I’m certain what we create in Sierra Leone will benefit chimps and people there and become a model for great ape conservation elsewhere. Losing more apes is no longer an option. Already chimps are gone from four of Sierra Leone’s neighboring countries.” Changing attitudes about chimpanzees begins with awareness and education. GLOBIO is working with Tacugama to create powerful visual stories, and multiple outlets and platforms to share those stories. We all believe this partnership will play a dynamic role in the future of Sierra Leonian conservation.
Look for continued updates on our developing partnership with Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary and for more details about them check out the Tacugama website.