“The purpose of the sanctuary is to provide a home for confiscated, orphaned chimpanzees. It plays a vital role as part of a larger countrywide program in stopping the pet trade and hunting of wild chimps through education and legal enforcement.”
The sanctuary is located in the Western Area Forest Reserve only a few miles from Freetown. They are trying to halt the deforestation of this area, which is good habitat for rare animals, including wild chimpanzees. It also serves as an important catchment area for fresh water for Freetown. Since the sanctuary is so close to the city developers are already starting to build out their direction. Unfortunately I believe this trend was encouraged by the building of the American Embassy in the hills near the reserve. Soon the European Commission will be there as well. And with this comes a lot of residential building.
The sanctuary consists of seven forested enclosures on 30 acres where over 90 chimpanzees are fed and cared for. More than 4km of electric fence protects them. When the chimpanzees first arrive at the sanctuary they are put in quarantine where they are brought back to good health and then socialized to live with a group. When they are ready they are slowly moved to another enclosure where they live with other chimps, always being observed to make sure that they can get along with the others. Most of the chimps in the sanctuary were former pets or were in the process of being sold. This practice is becoming more rare because it is now illegal to keep chimps as pets and this is being enforced more and more fortunately.
From the balcony of the library you can watch one enclosure, nicely designed with trees, ropes, wooden platforms, old tires… all there to give the chimps something to do. This is also the best place for visitors to watch the chimps who like to climb up the trees, swing on the ropes and old tires. They also seem to like to watch the visitors as much as we enjoy watching them though sometimes they will throw stones at them because as one staff member said “they want to show you who is boss.” But it also may have something to do with the fact that even though the rehabilitated chimps have a good life in their enclosures, they know they are not free to move around in the wild.
It is hoped that some day some of them can be returned to the wild but this is a long process, as safe areas need to be identified in the country. At this time a countrywide survey is going on to identify how many chimps are living in the wild and in what areas.