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Sierra Leone Declares The Endangered Chimpanzee As A National Treasure

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The Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, in collaboration with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, officially declared the Chimpanzee a National Animal on 28th February 2019, at a public speaking event and cocktail reception held in honour of the global conservation activist, Dr. Jane Goodall, at the Bintumani Hotel; Aberdeen in Freetown.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Joseph Ndanema observed that Dr. Jane Goodall’s visit to Sierra Leone has created another opportunity to promote ecotourism and wildlife management and affirmed that his Ministry is working closely with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Santuary and the the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) to supervise national parks and protect the flora and fauna, promote sustainable land use and management as well as uphold conventions and protocols relating to natural resource management.

He further stated that the Western Africa chimps are over 80% critically endangered due to human activities, and that global partnerships can help to halt the decline in their numbers, habitat loss and rate of hunting, underlining that Chimps are part of the country’s culture and are were even featured in the country’s biometric passports. He emphasised that there is an urgent need to reverse the trend and that is why the Chimp has now been declared as a National treasure.

The Agriculture Minister continued that the Ministry would use community-centre plans to conserve the forests, alternative sources of income for communities, environmental education, reforestation for chimps and wildlife species as well as introduce a review of the Wildlife Act.

The Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Dr.Memunatu Pratt said that the event is a rebirth because the Ministry has not been able to explore the full potentials of the country’s tourism and that there is a strong link between tourism and wildlife, citing East and Southern Africa countries, where tourism contributes immensely to socioeconomic development and assured that the Ministry would take action to make wildlife a core component of tourism and conservation of forests in Sierra Leone.

She added that she is amazed by the spectacular performance of the Tacugama Cimpanzee Sanctuary, the only one in the country and disclosed plans to have two more as well as make laws to preserve wildlife, disclosing that the Ministry would brand Sierra Leone with the face of a chimpanzee on all its tourist related publications henceforth.

Gayle Martin, Country Director of the World Bank commended the Ministers of Tourism and Cultural Affairs and Agriculture and Forestry respectively for their commitments to conserve the environment, revealing that the World Bank has seen firsthand the fine balance between conservation and development and that Sierra Leone has rich natural resources, adding that the Bank is committed to protecting the environment for the future of Sierra Leone.

The founder and Director of the Tacuguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Bala Amarasekaran, revealed that he has been waiting for long for Dr. Jane Goodall to visit Sierra Leone and the sanctuary and that her coming to Sierra Leone would inspire all, especially the youth, whom he said, have a critical role in protecting the country’s bio-diversity. He however lamented the rampant logging and mining in the protected Western Area Peninsula forests and refereed to it as a serious threat to achieving conservation.

According to Bala Amarasekaran, the sanctuary rescues between 3-4 chimps yearly, and that there are now a total of 90 chimps presently in the sanctuary, but over 900 have been killed over the past five years. He applauded the new government for imposing a ban on logging, which he described as carnage, highlighting that the NPAA requires determination and commitment but is handicapped by the Wildlife Act, which he said, needs to be reviewed to give the NPPA more powers to bring defaulters to book.

Mr. Amarasekaran said that over 10,000 children have participated in Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary programs, adding that the sanctuary has improved the lives of communities living around it through livelihood support like planting of fruit trees, and ecotourism and appealed to government to act now to protect it before it’s too late, especially when 30% of the water supplied to Freetown comes from the dams located near the sanctuary.

In her keynote address, Dr. Jane Goodall, who was also awarded the Order of the Rokel, a very high national award by President Julius Maada Bio, said this is the first for a conservationist in Sierra Leone and sends a strong message that government is serious about fighting deforestation and climate change, adding that human beings are all biologically chimps and asserted that there is no better sanctuary anywhere in the world than Tacugama. She said she knows that the Ministers of Tourism and Agriculture mean well but appealed for more collaboration, reiterating that there is need for urgent action to prevent the extinction of the Chimps.

Dr. Jane Goodall said her Institute, Roots and Fruits, established in 1991 is operational in 80 countries worldwide and has helped provide alternative sources of income to communities, affirming that everyone can make a difference every single day.

Special Guest of Honour at the programme, Her Excellency, Mrs. Fatima Bio, the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, who also kindly consented to become the patron of the sanctuary, said that wildlife in Sierra Leone is diverse, and that respecting the environment is an integral part of African culture. She said she was shocked to learn that each chimp has a personality and this would be an opportunity for all Sierra Leoneans to get to know the animals better.

She said Sierra Leone has one of the best beaches and islands in the world with the most diverse species for ecotourism.

In his vote of thanks, the Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, Mr. Mohamed Jalloh said Sierra Leone has moved from the status of blood diamonds to wildlife protector.

Highlights of the ceremony were cultural performances by the National Dance Troupe, musical performance by the Balanta Academy of Music, presentation of gifts to Dr. Jane Goodall.

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