West Africa does have its share of wildlife, it’s just nowhere near as abundant and easy to spot as on the east side of the continent. So when I heard that there was a sanctuary and eco-lodge that was dedicated to protecting Chimpanzees in Freetown it was put in the Sierra Leone plans very quickly.
After spending the first few days at the beach we pulled ourselves from the white sands of Freetown’s north shores and myself and my West African partner, Johnny, escaped to the Western Area Peninsula National Park. Here on a 100-acre plot of dense jungle sits the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. This chimpanzee rehabilitation centre and guest lodge made for a unique and educational getaway from the bustle of Freetown.
The non-profit organization has been running for just over 20 years and accommodates more than 60 chimps at any given time. The facility that began as one man’s desire to rescue a chimp in captivity has grown to into a multi-functioning facility for orphaned, abandoned and chimps that have been kept as pets. It is illegal in Sierra Leone to have a chimpanzee as a pet but still many people choose to ignore the law. Tacugama’s main focus is to rehabilitate chimps coming in that have been separated from family and traumatized at an early age or have been mistreated when kept as pets.
Chimpanzees are actually listed as endangered. Tacugama works on community outreach and education programs that bring awareness to the public about the well being of the chimps. They also conduct research in studying the living conditions of the animals.
I was super excited to visit this project and learn more about the life of chimpanzees. A visit to the jungle and a night out in the rainforest was exactly what I had been wanting.
Tours run through the grounds run twice a day. Morning tour is at 10 am and the afternoon runs at 4 pm. We arrived at around 2 pm to enjoy some of the short walking trails in the national park. The 90-minute tour was eye opening. Seeing chimps in their “natural habitat” as they interact, climb, groom, play and eat was pretty fascinating. The chimps are put into different segregations depending on how long they have been there and how they are adapting to rehabilitation.
Essentially they go through a series of phases that work towards getting them back to living a free life in the wild. The staff at the lodge were terrific. Many of the volunteers coming from all parts of the world as well as a large team of local experts who are incredibly passionate about the animals. We asked our guide Moses probably close to a hundred questions and he was thrilled to share his knowledge with us.
In an effort to build a self-sustaining non-profit facility, Eco-lodges were built on the grounds of the facility. We had the chance to stay a night in one of the two traditional roundhouse lodges. Set in the rainforest the lodges had ensuite bathrooms and balcony with a hammock. The lodges run for $90 a night and included breakfast. We had dinner at the lodge that was prepared by a cook on the staff. The meal was reasonably priced, large and really delicious. After dinner, we enjoyed some wine and a few beers with a Danish couple that was also staying there. It was a great night listening to the howl of the chimps and chatting under the trees.
Getting to Tacugama
The sanctuary is located about 45 mins from Freetwons city centre. You can take public transit or hire a care or taxi. Any driver or taxi will know where it is. You can expect to pay around USD $10-15 each way. If you plan on just going for the tour it would be a good idea to ask the driver to wait. Here is info on getting to Tacugama.