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“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.

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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.

Ethel

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.

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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!

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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

 

Manager hacks the Sierra Leone Marathon!

Our new programme manager Sofie braved the 10 km at the Sierra Leone 2014 Marathon last weekend in Makeni. Sofie has been training since her arrival in Sierra Leone running up and down the Tacugama mountain road. She successfully completed the race despite the sweltering hot weather and village obstacles.

Running

All participants contributed to raise funds for Street Child, a worldwide charity aiming to empower children through education and received a handcrafted medal for their achievement. Though the picture does not show, the chimps were represented too. We had plastered chimpanzee pictures and Tacugama’s logo on the back of Sofie’s t-shirt.

Well done Sofie, see you at the half-marathon next year!

The Poultry Project – A livestock project from Tacugama

Our Outreach Team has recently started a new and exciting project; the Poultry Project. The project involves six communities in the Moyamba district. The team provides the communities with several local and hybrid breed chickens and helps them build suitable chicken house to keep the chickens safe at night.

House building

Tacugama aims to provide alternative livelihoods to these communities in the hope that it will reduce the consumption of bush meat, and thus protect the wild chimpanzees and other endangered species in the area.

The team successfully constructed six local fowl houses in with the help of the villagers and some communities showed excellent initiative and tailored the structure of the poultry houses using their traditional knowledge. The team were overwhelmed with the community support; everyone got involved in the construction and wanted to implement their own ideas using local materials.

The poultry project is kindly sponsored by ZoosSA.

Chickens

 

Toad Thursday -An unusual friendship

The other day we found Joyce with a new friend. She had found a big toad in the enclosure and was sitting with him very quietly on her lap. Once in a while she would put the toad on her shoulder and the rather confused toad would sit there while being gently touched by Joyce.

Frog friends for blog

It was interesting to observe how Joyce’s nurturing instinct was strong enough to overshadow the fact that toad is a species far from the chimpanzees.

On back for blog

Maybe Joyce was hoping to find a prince, for once in a while we would see her kissing the toad.

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To those concerned about the toad – he survived – and when he got enough of his new chimpanzee friend, he jumped down from Joyce’s shoulder and went back into the forest.

Joyce and frog 3for blog

Using the Pedal Power Cinema for Conservation Education

At the moment Andrea Pawel is carrying out research for her Master at Tacugama. Here Andrea’s first report:
I have recently come to Sierra Leone to work at Tacugama for 3 months. I am currently doing my masters degree at the University of Kent in the UK and will be carrying out my thesis research along side the education programme that Tacugama currently have in place. Ethel (Education and Communication coordinator) and I have been visiting schools around the Western Area Peninsula Reserve and targeting grade 5/6 students to take part in a fun and simple experiment.

Our aim is to assess conservation messages through two different documentary films screened in various schools around the reserve. We get the children to participate by drawing what they think of when we say the word ‘chimpanzee’ with no props or prompts. We follow up by asking them questions about their drawings. They then watch a pre-selected film chosen by us and after carry out the same drawing and question exercise. We will hopefully be able to extract any changes in their attitudes and knowledge as a result of the film, which will be very useful for future conservation education efforts.

So far we have pilot tested the study in two schools in Regent, Logos Academy and God’s Army. The films fascinated the children and it was incredible to see their eyes light up in excitement! To run the film we are using the Pedal Power Cinema kindly donated by the Great Ape Film Institute, allowing us to reach the most remote schools in villages that may never have had the opportunity to watch films otherwise. We will keep you updated with our progress; in the meantime, enjoy the photos!

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Welcoming Sofie and Dalila to Tacugama

We are pleased to welcome Sofie Meilvang and Dalila Frasson to Tacugama chimpanzee sanctuary.  Sofie, who is from Denmark, is our new Programme Manager and comes with a MSc in Biology, She has spent  the last three years working as a manager in a bear rescue centre in China and before that at Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. Dalila Frasson from Italy has been hired in a new role as Conservation Manager. Dalila has worked as a chimpanzee keeper in Italy for many years and recently in Malysia as a curator for several primate species. Dalila’s primary responsibilities will be to develop and  implement the Chimpanzee Conservation Action plan for Sierra Leone,  including management of Tacugama’s community outreach and education team. Welcome Sofie and Dalila!

 

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Sofie Meilvang at left. Dalila Frasson at right.

 

Nico gets long awaited op to repair his arm

People who have been following this blog and our Facebook page know we have been trying hard to source much needed extra funds. All to let Nico get specialist help to repair an old fracture in his right arm. Originally caused by machete and gunshot wounds just before he reached Tacugama, the fracture never healed properly.

You can clearly see fractured the bone jutting out oddly in this picture.

You can clearly see fractured the bone jutting out oddly in this picture.

We were  extremely lucky to have orthopedic vet surgeon Antonio Peña from Barcelona offer his help, donating his time and expertise. All the specialist equipment came with him from Spain.
The operation thankfully went well and means that Nico no longer has the ‘extra elbow’ he’s been struggling with for more than a year. X-rays taken two days after the op show the correct placement of the plate and an impressive amount of screws (see below). Fingers crossed that the healing process goes well. The goal is for him to join his friends again and be able to swing around as wildly as he wants without any problems!

Preparing Nico for the op with vets Antonio, Jenny and Rosa.

Preparing Nico for the op with vets Antonio, Jenny and Rosa.

Antonio operating with the x-rays of Nico's fractured arm in the background.

Antonio operating with the x-rays of Nico’s fractured arm in the background.

Nico after the op, with Willie Tucker, Antonio and Jenny (bandaging the arm just before we let Nico wake up again).

Nico after the op, with Willie Tucker, Antonio and Jenny (bandaging the arm just before we let Nico wake up again).

A close up x-ray taken 2 days after the op to assess. You can see the old fracture slightly right of  the middle.

A close up x-ray taken 2 days afterthe op to assess. You can see the old fracture slightly right of the middle.

We’ll try to keep you posted on Nico’s progress!

Many thanks go to
-Antonio Peña Ruiz from Tres Torres Vetarinaris in Barcelona for performing the op at no cost.
-Esteve laboratory for the donation of the anesthetic drugs.
-Veterinary Instrumentation for donating the plate and screws.
-Brussels Airlines for reducing the cost of the flight to get Antonio here and back!index