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World Chimpanzee Day: Celebrate the Cheeky Chimp with a Trip to Sierra Leone 

World Chimpanzee Day, an annual celebration in honour of this cheeky primate, coincides with the anniversary of Jane Goodall’s research into the wild chimpanzee population of Tanzania. For travellers looking to encounter these charming creatures, there is perhaps no better place than the West African country, Sierra Leone, which has proclaimed the chimpanzee its national animal.  

Chimpanzees, humankind’s closest living relative, are endemic to Sierra Leone and are fiercely protected by the local population through community initiatives and wildlife reserves. In the face of global habitat loss and threats from human development, preserving the future of chimpanzees is more important than ever. One way to learn about the species and safeguard its presence is through a visit to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, part of a network of sanctuaries throughout Sierra Leone. Tacugama’s founder, Bala, travelled from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone and was shocked by the devastating consequences of deforestation and poaching. Since 1995, Bala and the team at Tacugama have been rescuing orphaned chimpanzees, giving them a place to recover before being reintegrated into a community of rehabilitated chimps. Currently, there are around 100 chimpanzees at the sanctuary. 

Tacugama works extensively with the African conservation community. The sanctuary is a founding member of the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), which aims to preserve primate species throughout Africa. It also comanages two of Sierra Leone’s four national parks and works with local communities to provide training, livelihood development, and eco-tourism support. A new eco-tourism circuit is in progress for 2024, which will open areas of the country previously inaccessible to tourists, alongside developing Tacugama’s offering with an Innovation Centre and Botanical Gardens. 

For visitors looking to learn more about the sanctuary’s chimpanzees, Tacugama is home to an eco-retreat: guests can stay in one of six lodges, each named after a chimpanzee residing at the sanctuary. Whilst on-site, visitors can take a sanctuary tour and walk through the forest, with all proceeds from visitor stays going back into Tacugama’s conservation programmes. 

Travellers can embark on a comprehensive tour of Sierra Leone with Rainbow Tours’ Natural History Explorer trip, which leads guests to some of the country’s nature hotspots: spotting birds and monkeys at Tiwai Island, staying with experts at the research centre on Tiwai, taking an early start to search for birds in Gola Rainforest Natural Park, and visiting a White-necked Picathartes colony in Gola. The first day of the trip is spent at Tacugama, where travellers will learn about the crucial work being carried out by Bala and his team.