By Ethel Sillah
Sierra Leone is a beautiful country along the West Coast of Africa with lovely beaches and mountainous landscapes. The country is proud to have very rich biodiversity with amazing wildlife and touristic sites like the Loma Mountains located in the North of Sierra Leone making up the highest mountain ranges in the country; the peak, also known as the Mount Bintumani which is the highest in West Africa with 1945 meters.
The Loma Mountains National Park (LMNP) in Koinadugu District is one of the touristic sites for hikers. Sierra Leoneans, as well as foreigners, take trips up the mountain during the dry season to not just enjoy the view, but nature in its originality. The country is recognized as a critical biodiversity hotspot in the West African region and can boast of having a sizeable population of forest elephants and western chimpanzees. The mountains are also said to have the highest density of wild chimpanzees in West Africa.
The Bintumani Park is home to approximately 1, 000 chimpanzees, about 20% of Sierra Leone’s chimpanzee population. Failing to protect these animals will lead to the extinction of the country’s national fauna. Sierra Leone with its diversity of landscapes, wildlife and unique cultures that cut across regions has high eco-tourism potential that could also serve both education and research purposes. Endemic species found in a particular area or region will serve both research and tourists destination purposes. Local crafts and skills in communities create employment and boost livelihoods as they are passed on to generations.
Loma Mountains with its amazing views is also home to the red ‘colobus’ monkeys, pangolins, turtles and many other species of flora and fauna, some of which are endangered; and critically too as registered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
With acquired funds from the U. S Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (TCS) in the Freetown Peninsular in partnership with the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) are implementing a conservation project with a broader view to protecting chimpanzees in the Park.
Outside the Freetown Peninsular, TCS has also been working in the Koinadugu District, defying the rugged roads and weather to reach communities to implement Wildlife Services project. With poor road network and travelling distance, for vehicles to access to and from the Park is difficult and as such, illegal activities such as logging and hunting are relatively low. Notwithstanding, there are sporadic wildfires by humans for cattle rearing and agriculture around the boundaries of the park. Also, poaching is evident and will have a great impact on the Park’s wildlife.
In the area of law enforcement, TCS collaborated with NPAA to train 14 locals selected from 14 communities around the Park on digital data collection and wildlife conservation. These eco-guards were trained to patrol the forest, identify local wildlife along with their scientific names, and detect signs and record data. They were also provided with uniforms and specialized training from the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Force (RSLAF), the Sierra Leone Police (SLP), the International Security Advisory Team (ISAT), and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Gola Rainforest National Park (GRNP), the Western Area Peninsular National Park (WAPNP) and the LMNP. In their local communities, they ensure personal hygiene practices and proper waste management is practised, especially during this crucial time of coronavirus.
To enhance community involvement and benefits in conservation activities, Tacugama supported eco-guards together with their communities established tree nurseries with 25,000 seedlings nursed and planted at the edge of the park. Also, 16 community hiking trails effectively maintained by the communities have been launched to boost livelihoods, and 27 farmer groups created and registered with the Ministry of Agriculture Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS). These farmer groups were also supplied with seeds and tools. Communities were further given livestock to rear all in the form of livelihood support. Women of Bonkoro village were seen helping with the transportation of trees for replanting at the edge of the forest – a sign of commitment and willingness to protect the park.
TCS’s efforts alongside the Government of Sierra Leone, to engage communities to actively protect the LMNP are pivotal to guarantee the survival of the western chimpanzees, declared in 2019 as the country’s National Animal. The LMNP will be safer for the amazing wildlife species found there when we care about its protection.