Tourism is one of the income generating avenues in the country and eco-tourism has gradually transformed from people wanting to only spend time at the beach; apparently they are now willing to spend time in nature. This transformation is the new face of tourism in Sierra Leone.
However, the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019 that has killed hundreds of thousands of people across the globe is not only wedging a knife into the social fabric of nations but also its economy, and developing nations such as Sierra Leone is hugely affected and Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary an eco-tourism destination is feeling the brunt of the pandemic. Inasmuch as chimpanzees have not been recorded to have contracted the virus, it is but wise and safe to not expose them to infectious diseases as they are like humans and share 98.6 per cent DNA. Meaning they can be infected just like humans and ultimately die.
The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is home to 98 orphan chimps rescued from human homes as a result of hunting, the by-product of Bushmeat – the pet trade, and the fight for co-existence with humans in limited forest cover with a bulk of their homes lost to massive clearing for human purposes. Meanwhile, it has been proven through research that a majority of chimpanzees in the country the ‘national’ animal of Sierra Leone are living outside of protected areas and are at the mercy of hunters, poachers and land-grabbers.
In the light of the above, programmes were implemented by the sanctuary to educate and raise public awareness on the importance of the western chimpanzees in the country not limited to environment and habitat protection. The sanctuary relies heavily on visitors and lodgers visiting or spending a night at the sanctuary to upkeep 40 local staff and 98 chimpanzees. Proceeds were highly appreciated in complementing the running cost of the sanctuary. The annual cost to care for a chimp at the sanctuary is estimated to a thousand United States Dollars.
Chimpanzees at the sanctuary are confined in a space that could be more when in the forest their natural home and as such Tacugama has to cater for them adequately for healthy living. The closure of the only sanctuary in the country responsible for providing safe haven to orphan chimps is not only loosing revenues from sanctuary activities and events, but halting the rescue and protection of these animals desperately in need of support. It will take many months before Tacugama welcomes its visitors to the sanctuary. Tacugama will return to its normal income generation strides in 2021 considering the spate at which corona is affecting lives and economies.
Meanwhile, under the current situation the sanctuary is working tirelessly to maintain staff and provide for the chimpanzees with limited funds. Scientists have proven that wildlife’s are host to viruses that can live with these animals naturally. Therefore they are carriers and can cause an outbreak of an infectious and deadly disease when they come in contact with humans and in turn infect them.
Tacugama is strongly maintaining a safe and healthy environment for its staff and chimpanzees amid the transmission of corona in the country. To the victims of corona ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with in this challenging time, you are not alone.’ To Sierra Leoneans, we say ‘together we will overcome, please avoid crowded places, and wash hands frequently with clean water and soap and mask up.’