Category Archives: Census

Pangolin and other great animals caught on camera trap

A few days ago our outreach team collected the camera traps that they had placed in Western Area Peninsula National Park six weeks earlier.
The cameras had captured some very interesting images.
For the first time we had been able to catch a tree pangolin on the cameras. The pangolin is a very special scaly nocturnal animal, which lives mainly of termites and ants. Despite the name Tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis) this species of pangolin is equally at home in trees and on the ground. Unfortunately the tree pangolin’s status is “vulnerable” and the species is declining in number due to bushmeat hunting and demand on the international markets, as the scales are used as traditional medication both in Africa and Asia. In krio, the local language here, the pangolin is called “shame beef” as it will roll up and hide its head, when caught by a hunter. We hope this one will never be caught by a hunter but only by our camera traps.


Another interesting animal which was captured on the cameras is the Black Duiker Cephalophus niger. It is a rare duiker, which suffers from overhunting. They are very adaptable animals and can live well in degraded habitats.

Black duiker

We also found this great picture of a group of Sooty Mangabeys (Cercocebus atys) on the traps. The sooty mangabey is still widespread in West Africa and is not threatened, despite being easy to trap due to their ground-foraging habits. We often see groups of them near Tacugama, though they don’t come near the chimpanzees.

Lastly, we had several pictures of chimpanzees with youngsters. It is great to see that the small population of Western Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) living in the Western Area are reproducing well. During the National Chimpanzee Census Project, carried out by Tacugama in 2009-2010, it was estimated that the Western Area National Park holds a population of up to 55 individuals of chimpanzees. It would be interesting to repeat the study and find out if the population has increased over the last five years.

Chimp with baby

Sources: and “The Kingdon Field Guide To African Mammals” by Jonathan Kingdon.

Latest news from our research project studying wild chimps

Last week, our research team went to Port Loko district to retrieve 16 camera traps set up last December in this study area. The aim of the study is to obtain data on the wild chimpanzee population living in human-disturbed habitats. At the same time, the data obtained may help to estimate biodiversity richness and to learn about the impact of crop raiding by chimpanzees and other animals. The principle of camera trapping is simple: an automatic camera is positioned in the forest and passing animals trigger the shutter, taking their own photograph. At the same time, interviews were carried out across several villages to obtain information on the wildlife biodiversity, people’s attitudes towards chimpanzees and other animals, and the impact of wildlife crop raiding.

Joseph Marah interviewing a villager

Joseph Marah interviewing a villager


Konkofa Marah retrieving the camera tra

Konkofa Marah retrieving the camera trap


Picture of a bushbuck

Picture of a bushbuck

A female chimpanzee with her infant

A female chimpanzee with an infant


This project has been partly funded with a grant from the Rufford Foundation (Rufford Small Grants Fund).

More info can be found in our blog update from last year.


Tacugama team works to reduce human-chimpanzee conflict

As well as caring for confiscated chimps at the sanctuary, Tacugama also works to protect wild chimpanzees and their habitats in Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leone National Chimpanzee Census (SLNCCP) completed by Tacugama in 2010 showed that over half of the wild chimpanzees in Sierra Leone are living outside of protected areas. In many of these areas the natural forest habitat is being lost as a result of activities such as logging, agriculture & mining bringing chimpanzees closer to human settlements. Wild chimps are trying to adapt to survive in these changing environments but this can bring problems when they raid farm crops to replace forest foods that are no longer available. Human-wildlife conflict is an increasing problem and in late 2011 Tacugama started pilot projects in some affected communities.  These projects are working with the communities to provide alternative livelihoods and create guardianship for the wild chimpanzees still living in the area.

We have recently started a research project to study the wild chimps in two of these communities.

A villager points out which animals she has observed in the area.

A villager points out which animals she has observed in the area.

The project, led by Rosa Garriga, is being implemented in the Moyamba district and consists of two parts: community interviews and a camera trap study. The interviews aim to gain more information about crop losses due to animals and the role chimpanzees play in these losses.  They also help the research team to determine the areas where wild chimpanzees are active and so where camera traps should be set.

Konkofa Marah and Yirah Koroma preparing the camera trap.

Konkofa Marah and Yirah Koroma preparing the camera trap.

The first field trip in December involved 50 interviews in 10 villages and placing 16 camera traps. These are remotely activated cameras that are equipped with motion sensors and take pictures only if something is moving past. The analysis of the interviews and the photos captured will be shared with the communities to help with generating ideas as to how human-chimpanzee / human-wildlife conflict can be resolved.

The team had to cross some difficult terrain to get to the research site!

The team had to cross some difficult terrain to get to the research site!

The team are now back in Moyamba to undertake further interviews and reposition the cameras. Hopefully we’ll have captured some interesting photos that we’ll be able to share with you in future blogs. We are grateful for the support that we’ve received for developing and analysing the questionnaires from Tatyana Humle and the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent in the UK. This important project has been made possible thanks to grants from Barcelona Zoo, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and Lush Cosmetics.

The view after a hard day's work.

The view after a hard day’s work.


New Chimps to count!

A Chimp Census only for the Western Area Peninsula

To learn more about the numbers and distribution of the Chimpanzee and other wildlife in the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve, we have engaged in a systematic approach. The National Chimpanzee Census Project in 2010 did cover the Peninsula, but not as detailed as we like to know. This current Census Project will compliment the initial survey and will cover the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve (WAPFR) far more detailed. Presently the reserve has a “non-hunting reserve” status but with more knowledge on the bio-diversity together with the urgent need to protect the water catchments, there is a good possibility to get the Government to upgrade the reserve to “national park” status in the future.

We are using camera traps and installing them in a regular grid over the Forest Reserve so that we can cover the entire northern half in a couple of months. Dr Rosa Garriga, our former resident veterinarian, is coordinating this project from Barcelona and we have started bringing the cameras into the field in mid of February. We express our sincere appreciation to the Barcelona Zoo for proving funds to embark on this project.

The cameras are distributed in a grid with a distance of 1 km like you can see in the picture below.

The yellow diamonds mark the locations cameras are out and the blue ones are the upcoming locations. The windy blue line is the extent of mainly undisturbed forest on the peninsula mountain. The thick yellow line shows the official Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve Boundary.

Immediately you can see how much Freetown has been claiming land from the forest reserve for construction, but also for fuel wood and construction wood harvest. Tacugama Sanctuary is located where the thin yellow line is ending, coming from the main road (red) close to Camera Location CL005.

Now from this ‘high’ point of view it looks fairly easy to set the cameras – the reality is a little different as it is going fairly up and down here on the peninsula mountain.

A glimpse you get showing the ways we had planned to follow in a 3 dimensional view.

110310_Google_North_view_differentView from Regent village towards the South

110310_Google_SouthEast_viewOpposite view North to Regent, like on the maps

It took us three days to set the 6 cameras and imagine we walked in total only 15.6 km of distance. Surely we had to learn during these first days also that it is worth an extra way to avoid very steep terrain and bush land areas where vegetation is very dense and full of blade grass that neatly cuts your skin if touched.

The white line in the map below is the actual way we walked:
Best walking progress is given where either local foot paths are leading into the forest – with the negative aspect that you find a lot of snares and charcoal pits along that ways – or when you have reached the 2-story rainforest with a dense canopy. Then the undergrowth vegetation is fairly limited and walking is easier – while there are still loads of big rocks to balance on and weeds to get entangled in.

Three times we glimpsed Maxwell Duikers on the walks, twice we saw old chimp nest built in the trees and sadly we encountered 10 snares installed by poachers, which we destroyed as hunting of any kind is forbidden inside the Western Areas Peninsula Forest Reserve.

Now we are curious: Another 7 days to wait then we will go back again into the forest and retrieve the 6 cameras and bring them to new locations. On return to Tacugama then we can hopefully download photos of wild chimps and share with you.

Here are some few photos we took inside the forest and some of wild chimps taken by the cameras we had installed around Tacugama in 2010.

110310_Chimp_Nest110310_Roots1Chimp nest & forest giant on stilt roots

110310_Roots2These stilt roots are huge enough to walk through

110310_River_bedDead tree crossing a river bed with huge boulders

And finally some of the wild chimps moving freely in the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve.

110310_Chimp_Group1Often the chimps recognize the camera when they pass by close

110310_Chimp_Group1aHere recognizing the camera might have even caused this male’s hairs to stand on end.

110310_Chimp_Group2While not everybody is passing by close and therefore most of them don’t care. There are no photos evidencing a rushed behaviour after recognizing the cameras – the cams do not seem to trigger alarm with the chimps or other species.

110310_Chimp_Group3Here a scene that can be considered rar as it is late dusk, nearly dark and the chimps are still moving. Seems they are a bit in a hurry though.

Now let’s keep our fingers crossed that there are chimps in other parts of the forest too not only close to the sanctuary. That there is a good group close by we don’t doubt any longer, evidences not only exist through the camera traps as you see, no, twice in the last week Joseph our forest guard encountered them while walking just into the forest south of the enclosures. Each time both parties were same surprised and turned immediately – no problems encountered.

They are out there!

“Greetings to all of you from the entire Tacugama Team”, says Bernie.

Census workshop proposes chimpanzees to become a national emblem

This week witnessed a proud occasion for Tacugama as we were able to present the full report for the Sierra Leone National Chimpanzee Census Project to key national stakeholders at a workshop held on 15 and 16 September.  The workshop ensured that the survey findings were disseminated to an important audience including representatives from government, conservation organisations and educational institutes.

The formal opening of the workshop
Workshop opening

The workshop was chaired by Professor Karim, head of biological sciences at Fourah Bay College (Sierra Leone and West Africa’s oldest university); opening statements came from the Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Local Government and Rural Development with a key note address from the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security.  As well as a detailed presentation of the survey results, the attendees were presented with case studies on community co-management of forests, offset conservation for the Loma Mountains in Sierra Leone and how the conservation of gorillas in Rwanda is being supported through eco-tourism.  There were many questions and lively discussions as the information was shared.

Bala responds to questions raised

The second day saw participants really taking ownership of the threat to chimpanzees in Sierra Leone and it was an important milestone in the history of their protection when the workshop overwhelmingly supported the proposal that chimpanzees should become a national emblem for Sierra Leone. We will now pursue the delivery of a presidential declaration to confirm this crucial proposal which should significantly increase the conservation profile for the species.

Working groups then formed to tackle objectives and identify actions in the areas of legal frameworks, community engagement, education, research & awareness, national & international engagement & collaboration, and value creation.

One of the breakout groups tackles national and international collaboration…

… and another, community engagement

We were extremely impressed at the energy, thought and commitment that over 40 people expressed during the two days.  The workshop has really demonstrated that the completion of the census has kick-started the next phase for Tacugama’s work in conserving chimpanzees in Sierra Leone.  The actions identified through the sessions will not be easy to accomplish but the journey has started and with the support we have gained through the workshop will certainly keep us motivated on the way.

Presenting the outputs from the education and research group …

… and from the value creation team (looking at how chimpanzee conservation can be funded)

We are extremely grateful to all of the participants and especially the Forestry Division and our workshop facilitator Eugene Cole for making the workshop so productive and marking an important step forward for the protection of chimpanzees.

The full survey report will be available to download from our website before the end of September, together with the workshop output.  We are very hopeful that we will be able to follow up the action planning process by hosting a chimpanzee population habitat and viability assessment workshop in Sierra Leone early in 2011.  With the support of international conservation organisations this should result in a robust conservation action plan that will strengthen the chances for wild chimpanzee survival in Sierra Leone.

Wild Chimpanzee Population in Sierra Leone Found to be Double Previous Estimates

After 16 months of intensive fieldwork across all of Sierra Leone, the preliminary results of our national chimpanzee census project are now available.

The results are exciting and challenging as our team found that there are twice as many wild chimpanzees remaining in Sierra Leone as previous estimates from the early 1980’s had suggested.

These results offer hope for the long-term survival of the Western Chimpanzee, but also highlight the significant threats that this flagship species faces in Sierra Leone. With the country’s push to develop and eliminate poverty, habitat is being rapidly lost to logging, mining and farming, pushing chimpanzees into direct conflict with communities as they strive for survival. While the higher than expected numbers are good news, these results do not mean that chimpanzee numbers are increasing in Sierra Leone. More than 70% of people interviewed during the survey declared that they see fewer chimpanzees now than several years ago. For more information on the census see our project web page
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Happy New Year – 2010 marks Tacugama’s 15th year!

Happy New Year to all of you from all of us at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. We hope that you have enjoyed the holiday season. As all of our chimpanzee family need the same care every day, our routine stays very similar no matter the day of the year but we’ve enjoyed meeting the extra visitors that the holidays bring to the sanctuary.

2010 is an important year for Tacugama, September marks its 15th year of operation: enforcing the law protecting chimpanzees, educating and sensitising people of all ages about the environment and conservation, working with local communities to help them develop, as well as taking care of the rescued chimps who live at the sanctuary. We will also complete the Sierra Leone National Chimpanzee Census project in the early part of this year. This important work is providing some excellent data and information that, as well as confirming the numbers and distribution of chimpanzees in the country, will assist us in developing and delivering conservation action plans for wild populations and their habitats. Increasing our outreach activity is essential to stemming the flow of chimps captured in the wild and the destruction of vital habitat areas.

We thought that you might like these photographs of Philip and Tito and how they changed since they first came to Tacugama. Philip was one of the “founding” eight chimps that came to Tacugama when it first opened in 1995 after being kept as a pet in Freetown. Tito was rescued from a member of the armed forces in the early years of the sanctuary and had to go through cold turkey as he was very used to smoking and drinking beer. He’s not as strong and developed as the other adult males as a result of his poor early diet.

A young Philip……

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Gun shots alarm the census team

Dr Terry Brncic reports back from her team’s most recent census visit to the Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) in the north of Sierra Leone on behalf of Tacugama:

Outamba Kilimi National Park is currently the only national park in Sierra Leone. Located in the far north of Sierra Leone on the border with Guinea, it is divided into the larger Outamba section in the east and Kilimi section in the west of northern Bombali district. The terrain is relatively flat with low rolling hills and plateaus offering excellent views across the spectacular landscape.

Thin strips of darker riverine forest running through the woodland savanna, and some of the spectacular hills across OKNP

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Gun shots alarm the census team

Dr Terry Brncic reports back from her team’s most recent census visit to the Outamba Kilimi National Park (OKNP) in the north of Sierra Leone on behalf of Tacugama:

Outamba Kilimi National Park is currently the only national park in Sierra Leone. Located in the far north of Sierra Leone on the border with Guinea, it is divided into the larger Outamba section in the east and Kilimi section in the west of northern Bombali district. The terrain is relatively flat with low rolling hills and plateaus offering excellent views across the spectacular landscape.

Thin strips of darker riverine forest running through the woodland savanna, and some of the spectacular hills across OKNP

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2000 nests and another young chimp for Tacugama

The Sierra Leone National Chimpanzee Census Project team has just returned from an intensive 26 days of surveying Moyamba District in the south west of Sierra Leone. This district is close to Freetown, with many villages throughout that depend on slash and burn subsistance farming for survival. There is very little standing forest remaining. Dr Terry Brncic, the Scientific Project Manager gives her report:

We travelled over 1125 miles in search of wild chimpanzees… usually in first or second gear due to the road conditions!

Another makeshift bridge safely crossed…

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