By Daniella Samura, Communication Officer

Tacugama Community Outreach Program (TCOP)

“We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations.” (Loretta Lynch, the former United States Attorney General)

Wildlife species are the building blocks of Earth’s life-support systems providing us with water, food, fuel and medicines. Sadly, one-third of all animals and plant species could face extinction by “2070” due to climate change (Legal Atlas 2022). The illegal wildlife trade is amongst some of the most important global issues that threatens the conservation and protection of countless species living in the wild. Animals living in the wild are being trafficked and poached at an alarming rate. Some people engage in such activities for the body parts of animals, and others do it because of the valuable products they get out of them. Sierra Leone is experiencing a concerning trend of capturing chimpanzees from the wild for the purposes of bush meat consumption, the pet trade, and trafficking to other countries. This illegal activity does not only threaten the survival of these intelligent primates, but also undermines conservation efforts and contributes to the spread of zoonotic diseases (These are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that naturally exist in animal populations).  The consequences of this illegal trade are devastating, not only for the animals involved but also for the ecosystems they inhabit and the communities that depend on them.

Last month, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (TCS) has rescued over three baby chimpanzees in Kabala and Koinadugu Districts. It is disheartening to know that all these rescues were due to illegal wildlife trade. Despite the efforts of TCS and its partners to eliminate the trade, some individuals still venture into the forests to kill adult chimps and keep their babies captive. In March 2023, TCS, in collaboration with the National Protected Area Authority, organized a workshop as part of a project titled “Action for Chimpanzees: Disrupting the Illegal Wildlife Trade”. The project was funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and carried out in collaboration with the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA). The project’s goal is to promote the preservation of endangered species and their habitats through a regional effort across West Africa. The workshop participants were drawn from the Law Officers Department, including senior judges, the Environmental Protection Agency, and private legal practitioners. This is a significant step in the right direction because the wildlife laws operating in the Sierra Leone have recently been strengthened. It is essential to have legal practitioners and government agencies working together to ensure the effective implementation of these laws. Overall, this project will raise awareness about the illegal wildlife trade and its impact on endangered species. It is imperative to promote the conservation of wildlife and their habitats to ensure their survival for future generations.

The illegal wildlife trade poses a significant threat to conservation efforts, as it undermines the survival of numerous species and contributes to the decline of biodiversity. Furthermore, it hinders the potential for sustainable use of natural resources and poses a serious threat to wildlife protection. The recent amendment to the Sierra Leone Wildlife Conservation Act in 2022 aims to address this issue by imposing harsh penalties on offenders. Those found guilty of an offense under this Act, for which no special penalty is provided, may face a fine of no less than Le 15,000,000.00 (NLe 15,000), a prison term of no less than 2 years, or both. In addition, any trophy obtained through illegal means will be forfeited upon conviction. These measures will help deter individuals from engaging in illegal wildlife trade and aid in the conservation of endangered species.

TCS and its partners are committed to advocating for the rights of chimpanzees and other animals living in the wild who cannot speak for themselves. We urge the Government of Sierra Leone and the Judiciary of Sierra Leone to enforce wildlife laws to protect these animals. Sierra Leone is known for its stunning natural beauty, and its wildlife greatly contributes to that beauty. Eliminating illegal wildlife trade is crucial for safeguarding public health and protecting countless species in the wild. It’s better to act now than to regret not doing enough to protect our country’s natural resources in the future. Let us remember that animals deserve to live freely with their families in the forest and should be treated with love and respect. The time to act is now! The amendments to Sierra Leone’s wildlife Act may have been a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to protect the country’s precious wildlife. We are grateful to organizations such as PASA, Legal Atlas, Global Alliance for Animals and the Environment, and INL for their support of the program in Sierra Leone. With their continued support, we are confident that we can create a brighter future for Sierra Leone’s wildlife.