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Sharmila with baby Bruno
Bala Amarasekaran and his wife Sharmila were travelling through a village about 150 miles north of Freetown when they saw a weak and sick baby chimpanzee offered for sale. The animal lovers paid $20 for him suspecting that if he was left without care much longer, he would probably die. Like most people, Bala and Sharmila knew very little about chimpanzees; let alone how to care for a tiny infant. However, with care and attention, the little chimpanzee began to recover and was named Bruno.

The reason for the name was that on the day Bala and Sharmila bought Bruno, Frank Bruno was fighting Mike Tyson for the boxing world heavyweight title.

For one year, Bruno lived inside Bala and Sharmila’s house, free to roam and get into mischief. As he grew he became more destructive, so Bala had to build him a cage located in their garden. As their knowledge about chimpanzees grew, so did their realisation that there were many more chimpanzees in appalling conditions around Freetown.

1989 - 1992

Bala and Sharmila with Bruno and Julie
Bala teamed with Rosalind Alp, who was studying wild chimpanzees in Sierra Leone, and together they completed an investigation into pet chimpanzee numbers. They found 55 captive chimpanzees in Freetown alone.

Rumour had it, that one of the chimpanzees in Freetown had been abandoned by her Scottish expatriate owner. Bala went to the address where he found Julie in her cage. He took Julie to his house where she was gradually introduced to Bruno. After a few weeks the two chimpanzees were inseparable friends.
Bala was offered more chimpanzees as word spread that there was a couple rescuing neglected and unwanted chimpanzees.
1993 - 1994 

Suzie when she first arrived at Tacugama
By 1993, more than half of the 55 chimpanzees seen in Freetown in 1989 had disappeared or been killed, and Bala had two chimpanzees (Bruno & Julie) at his home. As there was no prospect of returning these chimpanzees to the wild, a more permanent and suitable home would have to be found for them.

Bala then contacted a leading British primatologist, ethologist, anthropoligist and UN Messanger of Peace, Dr.Jane Goodall for advice about the future of the two chimpanzees. Arrangements were eventually made for the chimpanzees to be relocated to the Chimfunshi Chimpanzee Sanctuary  in Zambia.  

Then, one day as Bala was driving, he saw two other chimpanzees offered for sale in Freetown. It suddenly dawned on him that the solution was not to send chimpanzees to another country to be cared for: The problem had to be solved within Sierra Leone itself.

Thus, the seed for the idea of a sanctuary in Sierra Leone for chimpanzees was sown!


Philip oversees the construction
Bala liaised with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and produced a detailed project proposal, which included an environmental educational program. Within the year, the proposals for a chimpanzee sanctuary were approved. The Wildlife Conservation Branch of the Ministry of Forestry (WCB) allocated 100 acres of prime rain forest for the chimpanzee project, and so the work of creating a sanctuary began. The area assigned to the project is located just a 30 minute drive from Freetown, in the Western Area Forest Reserve.

A number of concerned parties were invited to form a committee; its mandate was to initiate fund raising initiatives and to steer the project ahead. All the spending would be approved by the committee, which was chaired by Mr. Prince Palmer.

As a result, the European Union (EU) awarded a conditional grant of $34,000 to the sanctuary premised on Bala becoming Project Director as his commitment to the cause was clear.
Bala accepted and made a major commitment to the 
chimpanzees, giving up his 15- year career as 
an accountant to work full time for Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary.                                                
In November 1995, the sanctuary was officially opened. The chimpanzees were gradually moved to the new site and placed in their new cages. The Wildlife Conservation Branch deployed three members of staff to care for the chimpanzees and the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone employed an education officer for the environmental education program.

1996 - 1997

Willie with young Esme
As news of the program spread, so did reports of more captive chimpanzees in Freetown. Some chimpanzees were handed over to the sanctuary and others were confiscated under the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1972. For the next two years, chimpanzees continued to be rescued from desperate situations and by 1997, there were 24 chimpanzees at the sanctuary.

The next objective was to build electrified enclosures, to ensure the chimpanzees cannot escape. Chimpanzees are social animals with a complex hierarchical structure within each family. With so many individual chimpanzees at the sanctuary, the idea was to integrate them together as one large family.

WSPA arranged to visit the sanctuary in June 1997 with the intention to assess the rehabilitation program and to consider support for the building of the chimp enclosures.


In May 1997, a month before WSPA was due to visit the sanctuary, a coup occurred in Sierra Leone. The rebel forces had seized power of the capital Freetown and were running a campaign of terror and looting causing the President to flee. The Nigerian led West African Intervention Force, ECOMOG, was brought in to oust the rebels from Freetown and reinstate the President.

Heavy fighting ensued and eventually Bala was forced to take refuge with other civilians in a hotel under the protection of ECOMOG soldiers. The hotel came under attack for two days when finally the Red Cross successfully negotiated a 1-hour cease-fire allowing the civilians to be evacuated.

Bala travelled to London, where he approached several animal welfare organisations to request emergency assistance for the sanctuary. As the rebellion continued, all the sanctuary’s money was frozen in a closed bank in Freetown. However, food and medicine for the chimpanzees still had to be purchased every day. Bala managed to channel funds to Freetown through any means he could to keep the Sanctuary afloat. WSPA and other organisations offered financial assistance which Bala took back to Sierra Leone as soon as he was allowed. 

In the midst of the war and against all advice, Bala decided to travel back to Sierra Leone. After five days of travel he reached the sanctuary in November 1997, and was relieved to see that the staff and chimpanzees had survived.

Rebels had twice passed through the sanctuary, each time looting all chimpanzee food, medicine and the staff’s personal belongings. The staff had risked their lives to creep around the forest and find enough food to keep the chimpanzees alive. They had little money and often had to take loans from the local people, while awaiting financial aid from Bala. The local community was very generous and thoughtful, a feat made even greater by the fact that they were suffering from terror and insufficient food themselves. This has created a permanent bond between Tacugama and the local community.

Sadly, due to stress of the shooting, the bombing and the unavailability of medical supplies five chimpanzees died during these tragic months. The remaining chimpanzees lost weight and were traumatised by the events of the war. When the coup ended, all but one of the chimpanzees reverted to their old characters .Little Boy was deeply traumatised and mentally scarred. He started pulling his hair out, rocking back and forth and carried a comfort blanket with him everywhere. This behaviour was aggravated by seizures that sadly led to his death a few months later.

However, just the survival of the sanctuary, almost all chimpanzees and the staff against all the odds is phenomenal and a testament to the character of everyone here at the sanctuary.

1998 - 1999

Moses snuggles with little Kafoe
In November 1998, WSPA were finally able to visit the project and support the building of three electric fences, covering a total area of 8 acres. There were 21 chimpanzees at the sanctuary at this time and a new chimpanzee recently confiscated by WCB, called Christo, was being nursed at Bala's home in Freetown.


A few weeks after WSPA’s visit, rebel forces made another attempt to overthrow the government, and on January 6th 1999, rebels once again advanced on Freetown.

The den roof had to be labelled in bold letters to avoid
unintentional air strikes during war time
eavy fighting ensued in the capital and more than 3,000 people were killed and many others mutilated in the in the following weeks.
The staff once again hid close to the sanctuary, getting what food for the chimpanzees they could. Bala was fortunate to be living in a part of Freetown that remained under the protection of ECOMOG forces allowing him to stay in Sierra Leone despite the ongoing war. Within days of the coup starting, and during a curfew, Christo fell sick with tetanus and Bala was forced to break into a pharmaceutical store to obtain the life saving drugs. One of the deceased was sadly Mr. Prince Palmer, the chairman of the Tacugama Sanctuary steering committee.

2000 - 2003  

Tacugama made a big step forward in 2000, when three electric fenced enclosures, dens, a food storage room and office were constructed. Bruno’s was the first group of the chimpanzees to be released into the enclosure. Furthermore Tacugama, together with 17 other African Primate sanctuaries, formed an alliance, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).

The complete disarmament in 2001 marked the end of the civil war and led the country to peace. Many young chimpanzees were brought from up-country to Freetown, mostly to be sold as pets to Peace Keeping Operation soldiers and expatriates. As Tacugama’s active sensitisation on the illegal chimpanzee pet trade was going on, many pet chimpanzees were soon confiscated, and this doubled the number of chimpanzees in the sanctuary’s care.

The first documentary on Tacugama, entitled “Forest of Hope”, was filmed. Its main story is around, Pinkie’s (a little white chimpanzee) introduction to Bruno’s group. Unfortunately, Pinkie died unexpectedly in 2002. She will forever be remembered as the amazing white chimpanzee.

As the documentary, “Forest of Hope,” attracted much attention around the world, another documentary, “Chimpanzees Under Fire” was filmed to update the on-going activities at the sanctuary

By 2003 Tacugama had a basic resource centre, a quarantine clinic for new arrivals, and a food preparation room, thanks to funds from the European Union, the National Authorising Office and Animal Planet.


Mural painted by a local artist - Santos
Four additional enclosures and dens were built in 2004 to accommodate the increasing number of resident chimpanzees. Jaguar’s group, a group of young chimpanzees, were released into one of the new enclosures. The release was filmed to create the third documentary: “Bala, the Friend of Chimpanzees”, which was aired in France


Bala with his excellency President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah
In 2005, the volunteer, staff quarters and the new dens to accommodate 16 more young chimpanzees were built. An onsite veterinarian joined the team at Tacugama for the first time. In order to promote the conservation of wild chimpanzees in Guinea and Sierra Leone, a nationwide education program was launched in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute, funded by USAID.

On the 6th of October, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary hosted more than 500 guests to celebrate our 10th Anniversary. It was a great honour for us to host His Excellency, Dr. Alhaji Ahmed TejanKabbah, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone. We were also delighted with the presence of many Government Ministers, ambassadors, international guests, heads of NGOs, village elders and children.


Community distribution at local village of Regent
On 23rd April 2006 a group of 31 chimpanzees escaped from the Tacugama. In the following two weeks after the escape, 21 chimpanzees returned, of which 19 had done so of their own will. After two months, 26 out of the 31 were back. There was a lapse of another three months before we were able to bring back one more adult chimp, Ole. Up until today four chimpanzees remain a
t large: Bruno, Abi, Toko, & Charlie Boy.
By the end of 2006, new enclosures were built for the new arrivals and Tacugama was home to 85 endangered orphaned chimpanzees.

In 2006 our community support programs gathered momentum. The Regent primary school received books and stationary upgrades. Clothing, shoes and various relief supplies were distributed as far as Kailahun village, 300 miles east of Freetown.


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