Busy days at Tacugama despite of lock-down

On the third and last day of the lock-down in Sierra Leone, we must say, we are so incredible proud of our team. They all volunteered to camp at Tacugama during the lock-down, in order to make sure that the chimps could be well looked after, even though everyone in Sierra Leone had been asked to stay at home. The team has put lot of effort into keeping the spirit up and all have walked around with a smile on their face.
We have actually had some busy days here, also for the outreach team, who are not directly involved in the care of the chimpanzees, but who all have still come to work every day during the lock-down.
The whole team has set up camera traps near Tacugama’s fences, in order to repeat the study they did a few months ago, that revealed that we had many wild chimpanzees around the sanctuary and even the Endangered Jentink’s duiker.

Camera set
The outreach team has unfortunately also had their hands full destroying an illegal charcoal pit in the buffer zone to the Western Area Peninsular National Park, which surrounds Tacugama. The charcoal pit had destroyed a decent patch of forest, and we discovered it when we spotted smoke coming up from the patch.
Many people in the area around the National Park do not realize that the area has been promoted from Forest Reserve to National Park. It was supposed to be announced by the President at a meeting, but due to the Ebola crisis the meeting has been delayed. The new status of the area means more restrictions on the use of the forest. Just as hunting is banned in the park, charcoal burning is also not allowed.

Charcoal pit
However, the local communities should be aware of the changes, as along the roads leading to the National Park there are signs with the new status and the new restrictions.

Hopefully all locals will soon know about and respect the new status, and understand the value of having a beautiful and lush National Park in their back yards.


Thank you to the outreach team for helping protect the forest and for all the effort you have put into the work during the lock-down.
- And the chimps during the lock down? they have had quite a laid back attitude to the whole thing….Chimps relax


Ebola getting close to home

Rest in Peace Dr. Olivette Buck.

The fourth doctor has died in Sierra Leone, while bravely trying to fight the Ebola.

This time it has hit us a bit harder, as we knew Dr. Olivette very well. This year in March, she and Bala were both invited to witness the Annual Speech Day and Prize giving ceremony of the local Regent Primary School.

Dr. Olivette’s husband is the priest in our local church and the couple lived just a few kilometers away from Tacugama. Our thoughts go to her family and all the healthcare staff all over West Africa that every day risk their lifes to save others. They are true heroes.


Leadership book helps to raise money for Tacugama

Sweden Chimpanzee Trust has been a great supporter for Tacugama for years. This year was no exception. Last week, Tacugama received a generous donation of 100,000 Swedish Kroner (14,500 USD) from the Trust.
The money was raised by the sale of the book ““Ledarskap på apstadiet” (Apeology – evolution for managers and leaders’) written by the two Swedish authors Tommy Lundberg and Ola Berggren.

In this book the authors study chimpanzees to help identify the innate human needs that form the basis of how we interact in the workplace and in organizations. Genetically we are 98.6% the same as chimpanzees. By observing our tree-climbing cousins we can regain a natural awareness of what makes people feel good and perform well in a group.

The book takes the reader on an exciting journey from the jungles of Africa to our modern admass society – from hunting for food to hunting for profit, from the rainforest to offices, conference rooms and board meetings. Engaging, witty and informative, the book provides a wealth of practical managerial advice but is so accessible that it can be enjoyed by all employees. The book was nominated for ”Human Resource Book of the Year 2010” in Sweden.


Sweden Chimpanzee Trust and the authors Tommy Lundberg and Ola Berggren have donated more than one million Swedish kroner to chimpanzee projects in Africa over the last years. The money has been raised through the sale of the book.
For Tacugama, this great donation can make a world of difference and it will be used towards care of the chimpanzees, field outreach work and education.
Last week the money was handed over at a press conference in Stockholm. Unfortunately we were not able to be there, but Roxane from J.A.C.K sanctuary in DRC, who also received a donation, was there and talked about the chimpanzees in Africa and the threats they are facing.
Thank you so much Sweden Chimpanzee Trust and Ola and Tommy. We are incredible lucky have your support.



Baby Fina fully recovered and Back in Group

In March this year, our youngest chimp baby, Fina, fell severely ill with symptoms resembling meningitis. She was unable to sit up or eat solids. We had to remove her from her mum, Finda, to be able to treat her effectively. For some weeks it seemed like she would not make it, but thankfully, she turned a corner and slowly started improving in appetite and movements. We could not have done it without Posseh, our trusted ‘chimp mother’ who provided tender loving care.

Fina is much loved by all the other chimps

Fina is much loved by all the other chimps

By May, we felt Fina was well enough to be rejoined with her mum again. It took them over a week to get used to each other again, but then Finda’s milk production started again and they were as closely attached as before the illness. Over the last few weeks we reintegrated them with their group and it was great to see them out in the forest enclosure again with their old friends, who were very excited to be able to play with Fina again.

Fina hanging on to her mum, Finda (with productive mammaries on show!)

Fina hanging on to her mum, Finda (with productive mammaries on show!)

Appeal for help – Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone

Thank you all for all the concerned emails we have received the last weeks concerning the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. The situation is definitely very worrying, but for now, all of us at Tacugama – both people and animals – are well, and we are taking all precautionary measures to stay safe and calm. We are running regular briefings with our staff to make sure everybody is update on the situation.

But, Sierra Leone is now in a state of emergency and not only are we concerned about how the situation is going to develop in the future. We are also concerned about our financial situation, as our visitors to the sanctuary and our lodges have almost completely disappeared within the last month. Normally a big part of our running costs, such as staff salaries and animal food are covered by the visitors and the lodges, which usually bring in about $3000 per month.

With the lack of visitors and the potential for the prices for animal food going up, we are very worried that the outbreak will seriously affect our finances. The food will potential also get harder to get, as Government has begun controlling movement of vehicles.
If you want to support us through this difficult time, please have a look at this link on how to donate to us: http://www.tacugama.com/how-you-can-help/donate-now

We will be very grateful for any support, big or small, received.

We will keep you updated on the situation and in the mean time do our best to keep anyone here safe. Our thoughts go out to the families that have already had victims to the Ebola.


The Tacugama Team




“Making the Environment Green” – National Tree Planting Day in Sierra Leone

Tuesday the 22nd of July, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary’s outreach team took part in the” National Tree Planting” ceremony along the Regent-Jui Highway. The ceremony was attended by many people, including the President of Sierra Leone Dr. Ernest Koroma.



Blog 3

Trees planted by Tacugama were provided by the Sanctuary’s Tree Nursery.
The members of the Outreach Team planted about 500 trees including mangos and acacia along the Tacugama road and forest path. The day was organised by the Sierra Leone Government and the aim of the day was  to ensure a green environment for sustainable development and environmental preservation. Tacugama warmly welcomes this great initiative.


From Zoo to Sanctuary Veterinarian

The last month veterinarian Kate Bodley has help us out at Tacugama. Kate is a very experienced vet, who normally works for Melbourne Zoo. Here she gives you a bit of insight in her experience working with our chimpanzee:

My usual job is to work as one of the veterinarians at Melbourne Zoo, Australia, but this month I have been taking care of some of the veterinary work at Tacugama, while Dr Jenny takes a well earned break.

Melbourne Zoo’s veterinary team comprises four vets, three veterinary nurses, two hospital keepers and an administrative officer. While being only one vet at Tacugama, I have relied upon the expertise of the excellent care team. All are experienced with the veterinary aspects of the care for the chimps. The best thing about coming to Tacugama is the opportunity to learn! I have learned a great deal from the care team, and also from the chimps themselves. Melbourne Zoo has Western lowland gorillas, Sumatran orang utans, siamangs and white-cheeked gibbons in its primate collection, but no chimpanzees. I have discovered that chimps are remarkable.

A zoo vet’s work day can be filled with animal interactions – most may be quite negative ones for our animal patients. It is one of the bad parts of a great job – you move pretty quickly through the day, and spend time with animals only when they are feeling unwell, or when you are performing an unpleasant task, like changing a wound dressing. They are not pets, and for most (with notable exceptions!) a pat on the head is not a nice reward after being held for an injection. So many of Melbourne Zoo’s animals do not view the vets as friends or carers, and some remember our faces as being frightening ones.


It is not possible to work that way at Tacugama. It is important to spend some quiet time with the chimps each day. Practically, this enables you to make an assessment of their health, and gives the opportunity to administer treatments. Their thoughtful intelligence also means that there is some small chance of being friends, for a time. For me, this has been a most enjoyable part of being here. Of course, there are many challenges that are not present while working in a well-resourced city zoo. Sourcing veterinary drugs and consumables, like syringes and needles, can be very challenging, and keeping these valuable items dry during the rainy season is also difficult. The decision to examine an X ray means taking your patient down to a local hospital, but only when when the human patients have finished their x rays for the day.


The forested hills around Freetown provide an amazing backdrop for the day, and the work has been challenging and rewarding. I am sitting in the office and see “Gorilla” climb 50 metres up from the ground at the top of a tall tree, in his beautiful, forested enclosure. What a fantastic thing, for him and for me!


Tacugama’s outreach team’s latest work

The outreach team has just spent 3 weeks in Yiben in the Koinadugu district setting up camera traps and carrying out reconnaissance work.

The objectives of the Camera Trap study were:

To assess the status of wild chimpanzees and other mammals, to learn about the biodiversity richness and to characterize and map the vegetation landscape.

The camera triggers when the infrared sensor detects movement and temperature differences, for example when an animal passes by. It does not have flash to avoid disturbing the animal normal activities or scare them.

The aim of reconnaissance is to determine the distribution and relative abundance of medium and large mammal species and to characterize the vegetation.

Distance along the reconnaissance was measured with a hip chain and a GPS track log. The team walked along predetermined routes at a speed of 1-2 km 1hr. The field teams consisted of at least four people, including two observers, one compass bearer and one or more local guides. One of the observers focused on the ground, looking for signs such as dung and feeding remains. The other observer focused on looking up for animals and other signs (such as chimpanzee nests in the trees).


On each transect, the following variables were recorded:

-  Mammal sign: visual sightings, feeding remains, dung, and vocalizations.

-  Human sign: Including signs of power-saw logging, hunting (hunters, snares, hunting camps, gun shells), human trails, and farms.

-  Vegetation type.


Now that the team is back, and busy analysing their data. Soon we will be able to share more about their findings in the area. Enjoy our fabulous photos for now!



david and josephsmall

edward and yirahsmall

cotton tree Kondembaiasmall

Enjoy birdwatching? Join us for “Birds & Breakfast”

Did you know that Tacugama offers bird tours the last Saturday of every month? If you wanna know more about the event read here: http://www.tacugama.com/visit-tacugama/birds-and-breakfast-1.

Next “Birds & Breakfast” will be on the 28th of June.

Last month Birder David McLachlan-Karr joined us on a bird tour.
Read his colorful report here:

Birding Trip Report
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone
31 May – 1 June 2014
This report covers a Friday-Saturday weekend break from Freetown to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located in the heart of the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve of Sierra Leone (which is the primary watershed for the capital district). The Sanctuary is conveniently located only about 40 minutes east of Freetown and offers a cool and relaxed mountain alternative to the heat and hustle and bustle of the coastal capital.
Tacugama was established in 1995 to rehabilitate confiscated, orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees with the aim of releasing them back into their natural habitat. Although it is illegal to hunt, capture, kill trade or own chimpanzees in Sierra Leone, sadly such practices still continue (bush meat, pet trade). The sanctuary now cares for almost 100 chimpanzees in several forested enclosures. The conservation team works to protect chimpanzees and their habitat through education programmes, community sensitisation and legal enforcement.
The last Saturday of every month, the sanctuary offers a birding tour led by their in-house guide, Willie Tucker. Willie knows his stuff, but was somewhat impeded in the task of bird spotting by some rather ancient and foggy binoculars. He is also a master at mimicry and called in some good species.


My guide, Willy Tucker, at the entrance to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

My guide, Willy Tucker, at the entrance to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary

We arrived at the sanctuary on Friday afternoon and keen to get into my first real West Africa birding, headed off onto the trails around the park while the family settled into our comfortable digs in the Christo Lodge, one of four bungalows rented out to over-staying visitors to the sanctuary. The cost for “Christo”, the most spacious (sleeps four) of the houses was $180 per night (including breakfast). Lunch and dinner meals were available (pre-order) for $15 a head.
Although getting late, there was quite a lot of evening bird action, with several waves of mixed species parties moving in the canopy and at mid-storey close to the lodge. The great thing was that everything was new, including bird families I was totally unfamiliar with:
• Yellow-whiskered Greenbull (Adropadus latirostris) – dark olive bird with striking bright yellow whiskers (which puff up when excited); moves in parties in the lower stories
• Sharpe’s Apalis (Apalis sharpii) – of the warbler family – a single grey male with a distinctive brown throat; my first Upper Guinea forest endemic
• Grey-headed Negrofinch (Nigrita canicapillus) – a small party of several dark grey birds feeding on berries
• Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch (Nigrita bicolor) – stunning brown underside and contrasting black back makes this species stand-out
• Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus) – also very common in Freetown
• Blue-billed Malimbe (Malimbus nitens) – stunning grey bird with a bright red bib and bluish beak
• Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher (Terpisphone rufiventer) – beautiful rufous with a blue eye-ring; flighty hunters of insects at all levels
• African Green Pigeon (Terron calvus) – a single, well camouflaged and sitting motionless in the canopy of a fruiting fig tree.
I returned to “Çhristo” (named after an especially beloved chimp) at dusk and we settled into our spacious two-storey lodge with a view over the canopy and adjoining valleys. A delicious candlelight dinner of couscous was brought to the house, all washed down with a good Argentinian Malbec (brought from Freetown).

Christos B&B

Terrace from Christo overlooking the Tacugama valley

Day 2
A major storm during the night woke me at 02:00 and I had fears for the day’s birding. Fortunately, the dawn was dry, but a thick, clinging mist covered the valley. Willie met me at the communal breakfast area as pre-arranged and on the dot at 07:30am (the first light here is considerably later than in more temperate climes – around 06:45).
In the wet and misty conditions, the birding was slow, but as the day warmed, the birds became more active. We birded along the road for about 1km to the edge of the forest reserve (where the timber cutters abruptly stop):
• Icterine Greenbull (Phyllastrephus icterinus) – smallest of the greenbulls with a delicate yellow-olive tinge
• Little Greenbull (Andropadus virens) – second smallest; very plain and nondescript
• Simple Leaflove (Chlorochicla simplex) – love that name! white gorge and very apparent white ‘goggles’
• Grey-headed Bristlebill (Bleda canicapillus) – several parties encountered of 5-6 hunting low near the ground
• Red-tailed Bristlebill (Bleda syndactylus) – one individual seen only once feeding near an ant swarm; handsome yellow bird with a long rufous tail and bare blue skin above the eye
• Slender-billed Greenbull (Andropadus gracilirostris) – upper storey denizen, plain and quite difficult to spot, although wheezing whistle call is very distinct; only well seen in the afternoon.
We then entered into a forest trail that follows a water line about 2kms to a small dam. The forest was secondary, but vine tangles and some larger trees gave good cover for the many low and mid-storey birds of the area:
• Western Black-headed Oriole (Oriolus brachyrynchus) – a familiar family (at last!)
• Velvet-mantled Drongo (Dicurus modestus) – ditto above
• Speckled Tinkerbird (Pogoniulus scolopaceus) – a close relative of the barbets, distinctive scalloping with a very beady white eye
• Chestnut Wattle-Eye (Dyaphorophyia castanea) – a striking little bird: male has a smart black-and-white tuxedo; the female wears a rich chestnut gown with a white skirt
• Superb Sunbird (Cynnyris superbus) – finally a male, quite large in size relative to other sunbirds and radiating a gorgeous blue, purple, green and red hue. Many female sunbirds seen throughout the day, but attempts at identification of the mostly similar brown and umber ladies was eventually abandoned
• Yellow-billed Turaco (Tauraco macrorynchus) – my bird of the weekend and first representative of this fantastically beautiful family. The green, blue and yellow bird added a surprise on flight by revealing bring red wings
We eventually reached a small man-made dam which supplies water to the lodge. Quiet, but in some flowering shrubs were several:
• Collared Sunbird (Hedydipna collaris) – green heads contrasting with yellow belly
By 11:00am, the forest fell quiet, but in an open area back at the main road:
• White-throated Bee-Eater (Merops albicollis) – a single sentry on top of a tree; and dozens of:
• Square-tailed Saw-Wing (Psalidoprocne nitens) – the common swift of the area; dozens of this all dark bird wheeling in the sky, hawking for insects.
We then proceeded back to the lodge area and descended down another road to a large dam (very low due to the now-ending dry season):
• Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus) – several of this common local raptor riding the thermals high up in the sky
• Palm-nut Vulture (Gyphoierax angolensis) – a single bird which alighted in a distant tree; striking black and white plumage
• Long-tailed Cormorant (Phalacrocorax africanus) – a juvenile drying its wings on a dead branch in the lake.
We also saw a very large crocodile which Willie said was one of two that had escaped from the sanctuary. (The other had gone over the dam wall in the last rains and down the river where it was later killed by the local villagers).
Satisfied with a productive morning’s birding, we headed back to the lodge when I spotted some frenzied activity on the path ahead (Willie’s ancient bins again not giving him optimum views):
• White-tailed Alethe (Alethe diademata) – Upper Guinea forest endemic
• Brown-chested Alethe (Alethe poliocephala)
• Finsch’s Flycatcher Thrush (Stizorhina finschi) – West Africa endemic
Both of the Alethes were prized finds, generally skulkers which keep low and out of sight. The two were fighting on the ground over a really large earth worm which was escaping a swarm of black ants. Eventually the White-tailed won the duel and flew off trailing a worm that was fully 12” long. The Flycatcher Thrush hovered above the fray looking for a piece of the action.
Later, from the lodge, I spotted two more species that ended a very satisfying 24 hours birding*:
• African Pied Hornbill (Tockus fasciatus) – flying above the canopy
• Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) – a solitary female bird
Back at the communal lounge, I sat down to breakfast and lunch (combined) and enjoyed a stimulating conversation with the resident biologist (Sofie) on conservation and Sierra Leone. Sadly, the Tacugama Reserve is under intense pressure from the urban sprawl of Freetown as the timber getters and charcoal burners attack the sanctuary precincts from all sides. Urgent protective measures need to be taken by the government to save the watershed and the sanctuary from human predation.
I hope to make further trips up to the sanctuary and definitely will mark the last Saturday of each month for my future birding calendar…..
Total new species seen: 31

*The only dip of the trip was the Western Nictator (Nictator chloris), whose explosive cackling song could be heard at various points from the undergrowth.  Willy said that the bird was very elusive, some birding groups had spent hours trying to locate it, ultimately, without success.  The call reminded me of the laughing thrushes of SE Asia.

*The only dip of the trip was the Western Nictator (Nictator chloris), whose explosive cackling song could be heard at various points from the undergrowth. Willy said that the bird was very elusive, some birding groups had spent hours trying to locate it, ultimately, without success. The call reminded me of the laughing thrushes of SE Asia.


Next generation of conservationists at Tacugama

Today, Tacugama welcomed students from God’s Army and Regent Elementary for a sanctuary tour and education session with Ethel our Education Coordinator.

Shool 1
After seeing the chimps in their forest enclosures the children watched conservation films addressing issues such as habitat loss, crop raiding and snares. They’ve all been given homework and we’ll be following up to see how much they learnt.

School 2