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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!


Dalila Sofie for blog

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

Sulleh: from cute toddler to Alpha Male

Tacugama will be celebrating its 20th birthday in two years time, and it is nice to stand still occasionally and notice the changes taking place. In the picture below from 2001 you can see Pa Willie with Sulleh. Pa Willie is still our head of care staff and looks remarkably similar after twelve years. Sulleh however, has gone from cute toddler to handsome alpha male.

Pa Willie with toddler Sulleh on the left, in 2001

Pa Willie with toddler Sulleh on the left, in 2001

Sulleh now, can you see the resemblance?

Sulleh now, can you see the resemblance?

Sulleh will often treat the other group members to a display to show what a big and powerful male he is. Afterwards they show him their respect by coming to groom him. Below you can see him getting some attention from Suzie.

Sulleh getting groomed by Suzie.

Sulleh getting groomed by Suzie.

And here Sulleh and Suzie are joined by Kafoe, forming a little ‘grooming train’, a relatively common sight amongst chimps.

"Grooming train": Sulleh, Suzie, Kafoe.

“Grooming train”: Sulleh, Suzie, Kafoe.

The babies love playing outside together

Perry and Mortes inspecting a bit of cucumber together.

Great news from our baby group: over the last few months we have gradually integrated all our youngest chimps into one group of nine. They are now happily playing outside together, swinging from the ropes and enjoying each others company. All of them have been taken from their mothers at very young ages, so it lovely to see them make all the chimp-appropriate ‘play faces’ and grooming noises when they interact.

Hashi half hidden amongst the leafy growth.


Winnie keeping an eye on the rest of the group while eating in the tree.

Winnie keeping an eye on the rest of the group while eating.

Perry loves having lots of playmates around!

Perry loves having so much space to play!


Zeelie gets expert attention from Dr. Kamara…once more!

Zeelie on the operating table.

Zeelie on the operating table.

Earlier this year, one of our adolescent male chimps, Zeelie, developed a swelling above his right testicle. A few years ago, he had already had an issue with bladder stones, so care staff members are always alert to any changes in his genital area. This turned out to be an unrelated issue, an inguinal hernia. A bit of abdominal fat had passed through the inguinal canal, causing the swelling in the groin. With the risk of intestinal loops passing through the same widened canal, an operation was indicated. We were very fortunate to get the help of Dr. Kamara, the urogenital surgeon from the Connaught hospital in Freetown. He had helped us with the bladder stone before and came with three assistants to operate on Zeelie at Tacugama. The wound has healed up nicely and Zeelie should be able to join the rest of the group in the outdoor enclosure within a week. Many thanks to Dr. Kamara and his team!


Zeelie with his surgical team (Dr. Kamara in grey) after the op.

Zeelie with his surgical team (Dr. Kamara in grey) after the op.

Zeelie enjoying some pineapple (3 weeks post op)

Zeelie enjoying some pineapple (3 weeks post op)

Mirror enrichment amuses the chimps at Tacugama

Primate behaviourist Caroline Griffis with Tacugama staff members Daniel Jawara and Murray Lamin

Here at Tacugama we’ve been very lucky to have had the help of volunteers with special skills. Most recently, primate behaviourist Caroline has been with us for the last two months, focusing on enrichment and positive reinforcement training (more on that in a future post). An example of enrichment was placing mirrors within view of the enclosures. The youngest chimps do not always understand, and appear afraid of this ‘unknown chimp’ they are seeing for the first time. If they can reach the mirror, they often try to look behind it or move their hand behind it, to try to find out where this new chimp is actually located. The older chimps can recognize themselves and have fun pulling faces or jumping up and down in front of the mirror. See photos below of Alex’s group.

Animal care staff member Murray Lamin preparing the permanent set up while the chimps enjoy the temporary set up, inspecting themselves en masse.

Close up of the chimps in Alex’s group inspecting themselves in the mirror. Alpha male Spana is in prime position (visible just left of the mirror).

Jumping up and down in front of the mirror.

Curious looks on the first day the mirror was placed

Curious looks on the first day the mirror was placed.

Molly moves in to Tacugama

On his way to work at Tacugama, one of our team was recently approached and told that a very small chimpanzee had been seen close to one of Freetown’s few supermarkets within the last few hours.  Following up with a few more questions and discussions we were luckily able to quickly locate where the chimp had been taken.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that the person holding the chimp was equally happy to see us as he was trying to also contact Tacugama to hand her over. It turned out that he had previously helped to hand over another chimp, Salleh, to Tacugama almost exactly eleven years ago.  He had spotted Molly being offered for sale by people who had brought her from Koinadugu district in the north-east of Sierra Leone and persuaded them to hand her over so that he could bring her to the sanctuary.

A tired Molly on her way to the sanctuary

A tired Molly on her way to the sanctuary

Molly looking a bit happier on arrival at Tacugama with Bala

Molly looking a bit happier on arrival at Tacugama with Bala

Safely wrapped up in the care of Mama Posseh

Safely wrapped up in the care of Mama Posseh

Sadly we know little about Molly’s history or experiences. She was suffering from a heavy cold and chest infection when we found her.  With the close care from our resident vet Dr Rupak and Mama Posseh, Molly is responding well to treatment and making a good recovery.  Although only about a year old, she’s quite used to being with people and a strong little personality is emerging.  She has a BIG appetite and is eating hard to catch up – she’s stunted for her age (which we can estimate from her teeth).  Molly loves taking her blankets and bundling them into her hammock to make a lovely warm place to sleep.

Molly enjoying her hammock

Molly enjoying her hammock

Once she’s safely through quarantine Molly should make a great playmate and companion for little Perry who is also growing bigger and bolder every day!  They’ll need each other’s support as they grow up without the nurture of their natural family.

Eva Mendes visit to Tacugama and Perry starts to walk!

We were very excited to welcome Eva Mendes and colleagues to Tacugama last Saturday who were in Sierra Leone filming for the forthcoming documentary ‘Half the Sky’.

Here are a few pictures from their tour of Tacugama led by sanctuary founder, Bala.

Trying to spot some of the chimps from our treetop viewing platform

Trying to spot some of the chimps from our treetop viewing platform

Bala and Eva Mendes at the viewing platform

Bala and Eva Mendes at the viewing platform

The 'Half the Sky' crew after their tour of Tacugama

The 'Half the Sky' crew after their tour of Tacugama

Bala and Eva Mendes at the end of the tour

Bala and Eva Mendes at the end of the tour

We’re looking forward to watching the documentary when it comes out next year! We recommend taking a few moments to look at the Half the Sky movement website, inspired by the original bestselling book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Also, we’re pleased to let you know that the 2012 calendars are now available to order. You can order yours via the Tacugama website.

Finally, we’ll leave you with this picture of Perry who we introduced you to in our catch-up posts a couple of weeks ago. As you can see, he’s coming on in leaps and bounds and has started to walk around. He’s even started to climb a little bit!

Perry exploring the veterinary clinic

Perry exploring the veterinary clinic

Rollercoaster of events at Tacugama – Part I

Hello everyone – sorry for our extended absence from blogging – we’ve been through some significant downs and ups in recent months and unfortunately with everything that’s been going on we’ve not been able to keep you up to date with the blog.  However we are back on line now and planning to stay that way and keep you all in touch with all our news.  It will take us a few posts to catch back up with you….

Kouze reflects on recent news…
Kouze reflects

Most importantly for today is to give you an update on the chimps at Tacugama and tomorrow on our activities over recent months. In our last blog post we mentioned our concern that a possible seasonal recurrence of EMCV was giving us cause for concern; we’d lost Urgent unexpectedly in February. Sadly four more chimps died by the end of April: Bo, Baba, Jetti and Small Lucy. All of these deaths have been completely heartbreaking as there was no opportunity for veterinary intervention to save these incredible chimps. We were also very concerned in April with the condition of Babes, mother to Bintu and Basma, but she regained her strength and was apparently back to normal when in August she was tragically found dead in the enclosure. We have been liaising with PASA and advisors from overseas labs to try to clearly identify what we can do to fully identify and protect against the cause of these mortalities and are very grateful for the support that we have received. Given that our strongest suspicion is still EMCV, we have also embarked on re-vaccinating all of our chimps with vaccines sent to us by Taronga Zoo in Australia. Following the vaccination programme in 2009, we had no new occurrences in 2010. It’s an extremely challenging, stressful and expensive process to anaesthetise so many chimpanzees but with the best understanding currently available it’s our best defence.

The most amazing thing that we’ve been able to observe emerging from the tragedies is the importance of the chimpanzees’ social group. With the death of Babes we were extremely concerned for the well-being of the youngest of her two daughters, Basma, who is just two years old. It has been incredibly heart-warming to see how her “aunts and uncles” (who are completely unrelated) have stepped in and taken this infant under their care. We are carefully documenting what is unfolding before our eyes and so far feel very happy that young Basma will continue to thrive with the care that she is receiving from the group. At seven years of age, big sister Bintu is coping well and also ensures that her little sister gets some extra special hugs.

Basma with Uncles Philip and Kafoe

Basma in the centre with Aunties Julie (r) and Susie (l) and Uncles Kafoe (behind) and Sulleh (in front)

We’ve also squeezed in three new chimps even though we are struggling for enclosure space. Two were confiscated with the support of mining companies who had been offered the chimps on sale. We’ve been working closely with these organisations to break the historical expectation that employees at the mining sites would be happy to buy exotic pets and we’ve been getting good support so Eglo joined us in April and Bingo in July. Eglo has sailed through his quarantine and has now joined in our youngest group of chimps with Chippie, Benita, Samson, Delilah, Tompey and Kangari. Bingo still has a month left in quarantine and is progressing well now we’ve moved him on from his previous diet which included plenty of beer, biscuits and sweets!

Eglo on arrival

Bingo on arrival

Our most challenging of the new arrivals has been tiny Perry. Only around 10 weeks old on arrival he was found at the end of May in Port Loko by one of the few vets in Sierra Leone, Dr Gudush Jalloh. He was visiting the area with a World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) ambassador, Stuart Lindsay, a judge from Australia. They were informed about Perry being held and immediately followed up to locate and confiscate him – it was a tough challenge but they finally succeeded and rushed him to Tacugama as he was in a very poor state of health, dehydrated, emaciated and with a bad respiratory infection. We were really not sure if Perry would survive – he was far too young to have been separated from his mother (we understand that she was hunted and killed) – and for several weeks it was touch and go. Fortunately with dedicated care from our resident vet and Mama Posseh and extra support from IMATT, (the international military advisory training team) who loaned us a ventilator, young Perry has undergone an amazing transformation and is now a cheeky, noisy and lively character.

Perry on arrival
20110602 Perry from Dr Pete (2)

Perry showing a marked improvement after 6 weeks at Tacugama!
20110726 Weighing (5)

And even more so by early September!!
20110913 Perry sitting

We also have a 4th new chimp since we last blogged. Early in the year we became increasingly suspicious of Mama Lucy’s increasing appetite and girth and realised that her contraceptive implant must have failed! On 27 March her son was born late in the afternoon to a very happy and relaxed Mama Lucy. He’s very close in age to young Perry so it will be fascinating to compare their development. Already we can see that Mama Lucy’s son is more mobile and physically confident than Perry and clearly has the advantage of starting his life within an existing social group of chimpanzees. It will be some time before we can introduce Perry to his own social group but we are trying as hard as we can to do as good a job as Mama Lucy is doing – she has turned out to be a great mum! We’ll soon be asking you to help us find a name for her baby.

Mama Lucy and baby son at an hour old

Our resident veterinary position saw a change of faces in April. Simona Papa returned to her native Italy after twelve months of dedicated work and we welcomed Rupak Khadka from Nepal. He joins us after completing a masters programme in Germany. We were also very happy to welcome back Rosa Garriga from Spain for a month at the end of May. Rosa was Tacugama’s resident vet for 5 years before handing over the reins to Simona. Rosa has been supporting our camera trapping project and visited to work with Bernie for some time as well as assisting Rupak with our EMCV vaccination programme.

Dr Rupak (l) checking on Zak with Dr Rosa as part of the vaccination programme
Zack vaccination & check 250511 (11)

We’ll gradually bring you back up to date with news and pictures on how all of six of the chimp groups plus the new arrivals are faring at Tacugama. We’ve got some more great photos that we look forward to sharing with you.  More news follows tomorrow on some more of our activities but for today we’ll leave you with a recent, sweet photo of Gaura who many of you have been asking about!


On the job!

Thank you to all of you for sharing your kind sentiments on the sudden death of our beloved “Lady Urgent”.

It is very difficult to come to terms with it, but life must go on. Tacugama is busy as ever!

This week we made further progress with the ‘Community Clean-up Project’. We were able to engage 30 youth from the Morthaim Village (about 2 km away from Tacugama) to clean their village and a 2 kilometer stretch of road between Charlotte and Morthaim. It was great satisfaction to see all more happy faces taking pride in taking care of their environment.


Ansu, our inhouse artist is always active between painting batik shirts and decorating what is around here in Tacugama. He has just finished beautifying our new lodge Christo and we are happy to share his talent with you.


And what about the chimps?
Jack the second ranking male in Yoko’s Group with support of a youngster, gave Pastor, Willie and Moses new work inside the Juvenile’s enclosure. It seemed that Jack was not happy any longer with the ‘playground interieur’ and dismantled the part he thought would need a change. We caught him red-handed …






As lifting the stem did not seem to be good enough to losen it – Jack engaged into full power mode and leverage.