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Tacugama just got SMARTer

Tacugama is very happy to announce that we have just partnered with the chimp-loving mobile company SMART Mobile here in Sierra Leone.
We made an exception and invited SMART to come and visit Tacugama, though we are officially closed. SMART fell in love with Tacugama after meeting the chimps and seeing all what we do. SMART will provide us with free sim cards and VPN’s to the staff making communication much more efficient here.

They will also participate in our conservation sensitization campaigns, by sending out sms chains with conservation messages through their mobile network .
In the future SMART will help us get our conservation messages through by sponsoring signboards and radio education programmes.
We are very excited about this new cooperation and grateful that SMART understands the importance of chimp conservation.
We will of course encourage all our visitors to patronize this new venture in Sierra Leone.

SMART blog

Manager Sofie and Director Bala are both happy about the new cooperation.

RIP Grant

We have some sad news to share with all of you.

Saturday afternoon when the keepers were letting the chimps in Joko’s group inside, they noticed that Grant was not there. Grant has recently had some health problems, and it is very unusual for him not to come inside, so we were all immediately concerned. However, he had been seen at the last feeding an hour earlier, and had looked bright and was eating well at that time.

Joko’s group lives in a big forested enclosure with a thick cover of bushes under the trees. Despite our whole team looking for Grant, we could not find him in the enclosure and it started getting dark. During the night our keepers took turns in going to the enclosure and checking if Grant would have come out of the forest, but unfortunately he did not.

As soon as the sun rose the day after, the team started the search for Grant again, but with little hope that he would be found alive, since he had now not been seen for more than 12 hours. He was found and our worst fears were confirmed; he had passed away.

We continue to investigate the possible cause of seizure, ataxia and some deaths at Tacugama over the years. Findings so far has narrowed it to an endemic toxic plant and further investigations are being carried out. This is almost certainly what had happened to Grant; his post mortem exam did not point to any other cause of death.

It is already a very difficult time in Sierra Leone and at Tacugama, with the Ebola outbreak still worsening around us. We all try to keep the spirit high and focus on our job of taking care of the chimps. Days like yesterday are tough on the whole team here.

Grant was adored by all and his sudden death was a shock for everyone who knew him. He was very easy to love; sweet and gentle.

Grant blog 2


















Grant’s beautiful amber eyes were so expressive, and he loved to laugh and play. He definitely did not deserve to die this young.

RIP sweet little man. You will always be remembered here as a chimp with a big heart and a loud laughter.

Grant blog

Creative fundraising by star volunteer Jutta

We wanted to give full props to star volunteer Jutta Philipp from Heidelberg. She stayed at Tacugama’s eco-lodges with her partner Chris earlier in the year and they helped freshen up signboards and walking trails around the sanctuary.

Jutta applying fresh paint to Tacugama's signboard

Jutta applying fresh paint to Tacugama’s signboard

Once back in Germany, Jutta did not forget about the sanctuary but started convincing friends to help us out by adopting a chimp. Then, increasingly creative, she organised paid pony rides to raise funds for Tacugama!

FUNdraising by offering pony rides to children!

FUNdraising by offering pony rides to children!

She also let us know she had set up a Music Night with many local acts. The event was free, but featured a ‘Spendenbox’ (Donation box).

The music night featured many local artists from Heidelberg

The music night featured many local artists from Heidelberg


The 'Musik Session' in full swing

The ‘Musik Session’ in full swing

The event looks like a lot of fun!

Jutta's partner Chris manning the info booth

Jutta’s partner Chris manning the info booth

As well as the Music Night and the pony rides, Jutta has also raised much needed cash for the chimps by offering massages (at two different physiotherapy practices). We are so impressed by how dedicated and creative she has been in her support to the sanctuary!

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


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:

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!


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:

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.


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!