Tacugama: Sierra Leone’s forgotten treasure

Located on the hills of Regent Village, just 40 minutes outside Freetown, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary offers a natural taste of nature and an oasis of calm outside the city. This sanctuary can be found in the rainforest closer to the Congo Dam, one of the biggest watersheds around Freetown. The 100 acre eco habitat is home to over 80 rescued chimpanzees.

The peaceful park has super friendly staff, great food and the amazing Eco-Lodges that host guests in the jungle, with a mini gift shop. One amazing thing of this sanctuary is the agility and aptness of its dedicated and happy-looking staff who are always ready to answer any question visitors may have. They also help guests in their daily guided tours to the chimps in their enclosed abodes. The awesome feeling may make you return back to this touristic community.

The sanctuary was established by Bala Amarasekaran, a Sri Lankan native, over 20 years ago. He developed the notion and love for protecting primates when he bought two-year old Bruno while travelling from Freetown to Makeni. He raised Bruno at home in Freetown and later decided to build a park for them outside Freetown when four other chimps joined Bruno. Bruno had become the lead chimp in the Tacugama, until in 2006 when it tragically revolted, attacked and killed a Sierra Leonean driver, Issa Kanu. The popular chimp later disappeared into the forests, and no trace of it has been found since.

This incident has dampened the spirit of many people to visit this place, who fearing for the occurrence of a similar danger. But Bala and his staff are not relenting in making the sanctuary one of the best in West Africa. “I know people still remember the incident that happened 12 years ago, but this is the safest place to be in Freetown,” Bala told Salone Jamboree.

This writer has outlived that feeling when a team of Salone Jamboree visited there. The park is totally safe and serene for any treat. You will probably not find a better one in West Africa. The sanctuary has six lodges for visitors, a restaurant, a small gift shop, an open space for yoga and cinematic activities, plus the chimps enclosure camps and a quarantine. The community has safe water supply and self-supplied energy from solar source.

Aram, the Development Officer of Tacugama, also emphasized the need for government to support the development and reservation of the sanctuary. He explained about the huge investment in the park over the years and therefore solicited government’s and NGOs’ supports to the park. As per their expenditure records, it takes about $ 2,000 to feed one chimpanzee for one year (excluding medication), plus the salaries paid to its 30 staff and other administrative costs. They fear that the forest will disappear when they pull out as a result of lack of funding or sponsorship.

According to Bala, the idea was to rescue and protect the chimpanzees across the country, and also ensure that the rainforest is preserved. But he said there have been many challenges in preserving this important forest that holds the primary watersheds, and providing water to the Freetown population. Land grabbing and poaching are also major challenges they face from the nearby villages.

By: Ibrahim Sorious Samura

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