Posted In Conservation | 20th September 2016
Chimpanzees are one of our closest relatives. However, while the human population continues to grow at a fast rate, chimpanzee numbers are falling. The human population now exceeds seven billion while the total number of chimpanzees remaining in the world is estimated to be less than 300,000. Since 2009, Dublin Zoo has worked with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone to help protect chimpanzees in Africa.
Dublin Zoo is home to a troop of seven chimpanzees. Four of these are western chimpanzees and they are part of a European breeding programme for this subspecies (type). Western chimpanzees, as the name suggests, are found in West Africa.
Unfortunately, western chimpanzees are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their main threats all stem from their closest relative – humans. These threats include loss of habitat, poaching (for meat, the pet trade, traditional medicine and human-wildlife conflict) and diseases spread from humans.
The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was founded in 1995 in Sierra Leone in West Africa. It was originally established to care for rescued western chimpanzees and to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild when possible. Although it is illegal to keep chimpanzees as pets in Sierra Leone, it still continues today, with chimpanzees being kept in unsuitable conditions or abandoned when they get too big. Over the years, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary has become more involved with community outreach programmes, wildlife monitoring and responsible tourism.
Sierra Leone Chimpanzee Census
Dublin Zoo first became involved with the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary back in 2009. Dublin Zoo provided funding for the census of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone that was being conducted by Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The census estimated that there were 5,500 western chimpanzees living in Sierra Leone but half of them were living outside of protected areas. The census has helped develop conservation activities to help protect chimpanzees living in Sierra Leone.
The Ebola crisis claimed the lives of almost 4,000 people in Sierra Leone. The outbreak also had a big impact on Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Approximately 50% of its income came from tourism and fieldwork and these activities completely ceased during the outbreak. Dublin Zoo provided funding to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary to help ensure the continued high level of care of the chimpanzees in the sanctuary. This funding also helped Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary maintain their staff. Sierra Leone is an extremely poor country with approximately 50% of the population living on less than US$1.25 per day. The Ebola crisis caused additional hardships for the people of this country so it was important to Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary to protect its team from further hardship.
Since 2015, Dublin Zoo has provided funding for the Tacugama Community Outreach Programme (TCOP) to promote community conservation. A major loss of chimpanzee habitat in Sierra Leone is due to slash-and-burn agriculture, whereby the vegetation is cut down and burnt, and creating land for farming. However, the soil on this land is poor and farmers need to slash and burn more forest after a few years. TCOP is working with farmers to use permanent fields and build up soil health, thus reducing the need to destroy chimpanzee habitats. TCOP is also encouraging farmers to return some farmland to the forest. In addition to this, TCOP is arranging workshops with local communities to talk about chimpanzees, habitat protection, and how this affects their local community.
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