Daniella Samura,  Communication Officer
Tacugama Community Outreach Program (TCOP)

Sierra Leone is a small and beautiful country located on the West Coast of Africa. Its beautiful mountains along the peninsular which resemble a sleeping lion earned it the name “Lion Mountain”. Ironically, many Sierra Leoneans haven’t seen a lion in Sierra Leone. Notwithstanding, Sierra Leone is blessed with a lot of flora and fauna (biodiversity). It is endowed with animals like chimpanzees, forest elephants, pygmy hippos, different species of monkeys, birds, and so much more. The Western Chimpanzee was declared critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), due to deforestation, logging, encroachment and poaching for bushmeat and or pet trade. Fortunately for Sierra Leone, we happen to have one of the largest collections of wild western chimps. In the past decades, Sierra Leone had over twenty thousand (20,000) wild chimpanzees. According to the national chimpanzee census conducted in 2010, there are only 5,500 wild western chimpanzees left in Sierra Leone. In an endeavor to protect our chimpanzees, on February 28, 2019, the Government of Sierra Leone declared the Western Chimpanzee as the National Animal of Sierra Leone and the new face of tourism, replacing the diamond. This was as a result of the work of Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment.

The efforts of protecting our National Animal haven’t gone unnoticed. Recently, a bold step has been taken by the Government of Sierra Leone including some of its Ministries to add the face of the Chimpanzee amongst other wildlife included on our National Passport. However, this recent development sparked a debate amongst Sierra Leoneans, naming it the “Babu Passport”. This begs the question, how have  we worked as a country to create awareness about our National Animal, making the message very easy to reach every Sierra Leonean. As much as the “Babu Passport” sounds new, our old passport had watermarks of the chimpanzee highlighted on its pages as well.

According to Kai Bockarie Saquee, the Public Relations Head of Unit at the National Tourist Board, the pictures of the Chimpanzee and other animals on the new Sierra Leone Passport has a lot of tourism value. Tourists visiting Sierra Leone to experience our biodiversity (plants and animals) generate incomes which go to consolidated funds. “Every country on earth has a national symbol which it identifies with. Other countries have animals as their national symbol. Prior to the introduction of the current features on the passport, Sierra Leone was rated one hundred and twenty (120) in the Guide Passport Ranking Index. We are currently ranked eighty (80), which is a great achievement. “

Abdul Tejan-Cole, Former Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Sierra Leone wrote in an article titled “Sierra Leone: Time to cherish our chimps” Chimpanzees are our closest relatives, and they play a vital role in maintaining the diversity of our forests. He stated, “Without them and their fellow great apes and elephants, these forests would be irreversibly changed.” Tejan-Cole added that the passport issue is a perfect opportunity to raise global awareness on Chimpanzees. He added, “instead of being known for war and Ebola, we might become renowned for our efforts to save the western chimpanzee and preserve the ecosystem.”

This is a national win as we are all stakeholders in protecting our wildlife. Moreover, every stakeholder involved in conservation has gained a platform to showcase their work and advocacy initiatives in protecting our environment. We, at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, are very happy because our ongoing work to protect our national animal and the environment has been acknowledged at national level, creating more public awareness through our national passport. The pictures of the Chimp, Monkey, Pygmy Hippopotamus and Cattle Egret Bird  on the passport have enlightened Sierra Leoneans that the Chimpanzee is our  National Animal. The face of Chimpanzees on our National Passport should be the least of our concerns. Protecting and making the forests safe for them is our responsibility because these are animals who cannot advocate for their rights. As Sierra Leoneans, we should all come together to protect these magnificent beings. “Chimpanzees are our National Champions… The National Animal Campaign continues.”