Abused Chimpanzees Find Home in Sierra Leone Wildlife Refuge

08 April, 2018

For more than 20 years, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary has cared for abused chimpanzees and chimps whose mothers have died. Victims of the illegal wildlife trade, the animals often arrive at the sanctuary with many problems.

The wildlife refuge was set up near Freetown, Sierra Leone, in 1995. Since then, the sanctuary has accepted 77 chimpanzees, all victims of the wildlife trafficking.

Money to operate the camp comes from the European Union, several zoos in western countries and environmental groups.

A chimp holds some plants as she sits in an outside play area. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A chimp holds some plants as she sits in an outside play area. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Willie Tucker serves as the camp's supervisor. He has been with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary since it opened. He says that the illegal trade of chimpanzees is inhumane and hurts local ape populations.

"One chimpanzee pet at home means several other chimpanzees would have been killed in the process...because in the capture a young chimpanzee from the forest, you must first interfere with the mother...you end up killing the mother first, the father, the uncles."

The sanctuary has a program to help chimpanzees as they recover from abuse. Tucker says the surviving chimps often arrive at the camp with bullet or knife wounds. Others were starving.

"Sometimes they are living in bad conditions. So when they get here, we make sure that we change their diet slowly."

He adds that the chimpanzees are given vaccinations to protect them against diseases such as polio and tetanus. Once healthy, they get to meet and spend time with other chimps.

Over time, the animals are placed in an enclosed, semi-wild environment, where they can look for food and act as naturally as they would in the wild. But many chimps reject the wild life.

"Chimpanzees, once kept as pets, it's difficult to be released. It's like they have been used to staying with people. It's possible that even after 20 or 30 years you send them back to the jungle without any controlled areas and they will find their way back to people's homes."

Sierra Leone's chimpanzee trade has dropped sharply in the past few years. Tucker believes this is resulted from Tacugama's education program for local communities, which teaches people to leave the animals alone.

David Momoh heads those programs.

"Since the sanctuary started, we were getting something like five to six chimps a year, but now we are looking at the point we take only maybe one chimp a year."

But now, there is a new threat to Sierra Leone's chimpanzee population: the clearing of forests. In 2010, the government reported that just five percent of original forests remain untouched.

And development is moving closer to those few remaining forests, including the one at the national park around Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Momoh says more housing is being built in and around Freetown because of the city's growing population. He says this has led to a lot of deforestation, even within the protected area itself.

Momoh believes the government must increase its efforts to protect the natural habitat of chimpanzees. But until then, the animals can find sanctuary at Tacugama.

I'm Susan Shand.

Jason Patinkin reported this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted his report for Learning English. The editor was George Grow.


Words in This Story

sanctuary n. a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter

zoon. a place where many animals are kept

petn. an animal kept for pleasure or company, not for its usefulness

semiprefix Partial or incomplete

junglen. a thick growth of plants; a large area usually covered with a think growth of plants

original adj. of or relating to a beginning; not secondary

park – n. a piece of ground kept for recreation; a space occupied by animals or plants