The staff at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary dedicate their lives to protecting and rehabilitating chimpanzees in this safe haven in Freetown. Here is an insight to this peaceful retreat set amidst the African rainforest.
“Chimpanzees are very smart animals. You need to think ahead of them or they will trick you.”
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is home to 74 Western Chimpanzees, dutifully cared for by twelve devoted and passionate staff members and a resident veterinarian. Sadly, these incredible animals are under threat from the illegal bush meat and pet trade, as well as habitat destruction. Many of the chimpanzees residing here have been orphaned from their parents or rescued. At Tacugama, situated in Western Area Peninsula National Park, they are given a new lease of life, with the final goal of releasing them back into the wild. So what does daily life at the sanctuary involve? Sofie Meilvang works at the sanctuary as a Programme Manager and tells us all about the joys and challenges of working with wild animals and what you can experience as a visitor to the center.
A run through the daily routines
The Caretakers are up at the crack of dawn to begin the daily routines. The younger chimps are already eager for their morning milk, then it’s the turn of the older chimps for their breakfast. Once they are fed and satisfied they are let out into the large forested enclose for the day adventures. They are fed several times a day, but also encouraged to forage, recreating their natural behavior in the wild. Meanwhile, the Caretakers clean the dens and collect ‘browse’, the chimps’ favorite nesting material, and maintain enclosures. It is also important to “spend time observing the chimpanzees and prepare enrichment for them,” Sophie informs us.
The importance of rehabilitation
The reality is that most of the chimps that come to Tacugama do so under horrendous circumstances. “Some of our chimps, having been living with humans for a long time, came here and behaved more like humans than chimps. It is then our job to rehabilitate them back to being chimps. That can be a very long process and has to be done very slowly,” Sophie explains.
With the care of the round the clock team it is possible to release these animals back into the wild. In their natural habitat, chimps live in large family groups ranging from 15 to 100 animals so at the sanctuary it is important they are introduced to surrogate families. When they are released into the wild, the whole group is released together.
Each has their own character
We ask Sofie to tell us a little about the character and temperament of the chimps: “Chimpanzees are very smart animals. You need to think ahead of them or they will trick you. Some people say that chimps are as smart as a 6-8 year old human, but I think they are smarter than that.”
Each animal is unique just like humans and have their own personality and traits. “Some are very playful; some are very gentle while some can be very aggressive. Their group structure is very complex and they are very social animals.”
A guided tour of wildlife and rainforests
The sanctuary offers a 90 minute guided tour. The tour extends to the surrounding protected rainforest so you are in for a treat and may see many other animal and bird species during your visit. Sofie informs “the guides will also tell [you] about the individual chimpanzees and their stories.”
Along the way, you’ll hear of the care of the chimps and learn about the different stages of rehabilitation, as well as the situation in the wild and the work Tacugama does to protect this beautiful species. For something even more unique, the sanctuary offers monthly yoga retreats or Bird & Breakfast tours. You are also welcome to follow the marked trails around the center at any time, one of which will lead you to the Congo Dam.
Why are visitors important?
Staff at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Visitors are a vital part of the sanctuary. A large part of the sanctuary’s income is a result of eco-tourism activities, which goes towards the running costs, such as food for the animals, and staff salaries. Since the Ebola outbreak, the number of visitors has declined but the sanctuary is already working to recover these numbers.
“We want as many people as possible to learn about the chimpanzees and what they can do to support their survival in the wild.”
To step into the swinging world of Freetown’s chimpanzees, this tranquil haven is just 30 minutes by car from the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, meaning that you are closer than you think to getting up close to one of Africa’s favorite wild animals.
All images © Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary