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We’re conservationists, no politics here

We’re conservationists, no politics here

I have adapted today’s heading from either a radio show or some similar programme that said “We’re British, no sex.” And so it is for today’s column, we’re conservationists, no politics,” not even a five page of for-di-people  newspaper derogatory remarks on Sama Banya by uncle Joe, Olu, Makuta and the rest of the Paul Kamara  one-man gang is going to tempt us away from our set goal. Yes, we will refuse to be tempted to comment on the increase in the pump price of fuel to Le17,500 per gallon and how that is going to further improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans since the APC came to power. All of these and more are today relegated to the large storehouse of my political memory. Today it will all be about conservation and the Fifteenth anniversary of the establishment of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Regent. No No! I cross my heart three times; I mean up in Bathurst village in the Mountain Rural district. That fight between the two villages about where the sanctuary is located reminds me of the fight in Gulliver’s Travels (was it by Jonathan Swift?) between the Lilliputians and the other island over whether an egg should be opened at the narrow end or the wide end.

Last Friday I attended a sumptuous dinner at the Country Lodge complex to celebrate FIFTEEN YEARS of the establishment of the Sanctuary.

Mr. Bala Amarasakara and his wife Shamira were travelling up country when they came across a small hungry helpless and miserable looking young chimp tied to a tree. It was being offered for sale. They paid thirty United States dollars for it. They both had no knowledge of how to look after a chimp, let alone one in that condition. By an interesting coincidence it was the night Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson were fighting for the World boxing heavy weight championship and Bala, never mind the surname from now on, was backing Bruno to win.

The young chimp now christened Bruno was taken to their home in Freetown where he was left to roam as he liked. The result of that can well be imagined. Eventually other rescued chimps were added to the family and the Bala home could no longer conveniently hold them all. In collaboration with the wildlife division of the ministry of agriculture and forestry a law was enacted making it an offence to possess, sell or buy endangered species including the chimpanzee. Confiscated chimps need a home where they can be treated, rehabilitated and homed in a semi-wild environment. A captive chimp cannot be returned to the wild until it is wise enough and has relearned the skills it needs to survive. That was the main reason for Taccugama in 1995. Wild life as we have repeated often is dwindling rapidly due to habitat destruction from expansion of human settlements, the increase in bush meat trade etc. About that time the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone CSSL had as their guest for that year’s Wild life Week celebrations the world renowned Chimp conservationist and expert Jane Goodall and her presence enhanced Bala’s endeavours but the sanctuary has continued to need financial support. Today Taccugama which started with about 15 chimps now boasts a population of 100.

Bala has drawn international attention and support for Taccugama because of its research, educational aspect and community development in addition to its conservation work.

A proper census has been done on the country’s chimp population. Compared with Ivory Coast which only has an estimated 500 chimp population but receives about 20 million United States dollars annually for chimp conservation, Sierra Leone’s chimp population is the highest in the sub region after Guinea. The highest concentration is in the Loma Mountains followed by the Otamba Kilimi National Park OKNP both in northern Sierra Leone. In addition Guinea and Sierra Leone account for about 40 percent of the West Africa chimp population. Two staff members of Taccugama have recently won international recognition for their work at the sanctuary. Perhaps a new dawn has begun for support in our conservation efforts.

Readers may recall the unfortunate incident one Sunday morning when against the advice of the sanctuary and the main contractors at the American Embassy two of their American employees  stubbornly went up to the sanctuary at a time when it was officially closed to the public. The mighty Bruno escaped with a number of other chimps and for some time we feared that the lives of people may be in danger. There is now evidence that Bruno is alive and leading a pack of fifteen others.

On behalf of all lovers of animals in the wild and of Wildlife Conservation in general and of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone, I extend warm congratulations to Bala and his team and wish the Sanctuary continued growth and success.


The poem below is added from the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary website http://www.tacugama.com

The Chimps of Tacugama

Bala with Bruno

You might wonder where we come from, Where do we come from?

All of us are orphans.

Our mothers were killed
and sold as bush-meat.
We were captured and sold as pets.
Each one of us has our own heartbreaking story.

Fortunately, we were rescued
and given a second chance
at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Like humans, a happy childhood defines a healthy mental and physical adulthood.
The fact of losing our mothers and relatives was the start of our struggle for survival.

Many of the orphan chimpanzees
don’t cope well in captivity,
and die of depression, disease
or malnutrition soon after being captured.

Just think that for each one of us that reaches Tacugama an average of 8 chimpanzees have died along the way.

The ones that do survive, live in terror
and anxiety in the hands
of humans that do not know
anything about our needs.

We are very cute when we are young.
We like to play, laugh, hug, kiss and
we are in need of loads of love
like human children.
But when we grow older,
we become too strong to be handled and
we are either shot dead or left isolated in small cages or chained by our necks.

When you visit Tacugama, you will see that we have been given a chance to form and live in a family group
in a semi-wild environment.
We are highly social primates and
we need to live with our kith and kin.

Family means ALL to us.

We need to be in close contact to our mothers, fathers, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins.

In the wild, we live in large families and
the bonds between the members
of each family are forever.
Here at Tacugama, we have been granted
the opportunity to have a foster family.
We are not direct relatives,
at least not that we are aware of,
but we are now as tight as a normal chimpanzee family in the wild could be.

Don’t assume for one minute that
to achieve this situation has been easy.

Chimpanzees are very territorial.
Normally the family members will attack
and sometimes kill unknown chimps.
In our case, we were all
strangers to each other.
That means we had to learn to accept each other and define our social status within the group.

Bruno was the original alpha male,
as humans like to call him.
Tacugama wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him.
Bruno was the first one to be rescued by
Bala & family when he was less than a year old.
Bruno has since left the Sanctuary.
We all pay respect to him.
He kept within our group.
He knew everyone and noticed everything.
Nothing escaped his attention.
He would protect the weak and
keep in line the disobedient.

Second in rank is Philip.
He has a tough time.
Being second is never easy.

Then there are Charlie boy, Christo,
Tito, Jojo, Ole…
Everyone has his own rank and
plays his own role within the group.

As for the females, the eldest and
more revered one is Julie.
She happened to be the second
chimpanzee rescued by Mr. Bala.

She and Bruno lived together for several years
before others progressively joined them.
Julie has been mother to almost all of us.
She has filled us with her love,
the gap left by our murdered mothers.

In 2002, she gave birth to her son, Jumu.
Not only has she been an excellent mother
to him, but she still professes care and
love to the rest of the family.
She has always a spare hug, kiss or
embrace for those in need of reassurance.
Of course, Jumu has become the favourite
of all the uncles, aunts and cousins.
He is playful and brave, for that
he has Julie’s constant protection.

If you want to know more about each and every one of us, you can read about some of us from our webpages at www.tacugama.com or  come visit us in Sierra Leone.

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