Thousands of people were sensitized in the 36 villages along the Bandajuma/Jendema Road on hunting and killing endangered wildlife spices, reforestation (regenerate degraded habitats), protection of water catchment areas, waste management practices, better improved farming methods, how to conserve the biodiversity of Sierra Leone and enforcement of wildlife laws, especially chimpanzees.
Among other stakeholders, the team held discussions with Paramount Chiefs Sheriff Tamu of Kpele Chiefdom, Lahai Sowa of Sowa Chiefdom, Sheku Koroma of Pejeh Chiefdom, Vandy Kong Magona of Barrie Chiefdom and Mohamed Conteh of Kanbondeh Chiefdom.
The team also informed the people about the status of wildlife in human-disturbed habitats, frequently raided crops and types of animals, especially chimps, how to develop mitigation methods to minimize human-wildlife conflict, the biodiversity richness as well as collected evidence of the threats to chimpanzees and other wildlife and contribute to the conservation of these non-protected habitats in addition to teaching communities how to adapt new livelihood that is better for the environment and wildlife.
Due to their declining population, chimpanzees have become endangered spices. Sierra Leone had the second highest population of chimpanzees after Guinea.
Chimpanzees are unlike most wildlife as their reproduction rate is similar to humans. They produce children every five years after the age of 10-12 years. Therefore, killing one chimpanzee can significantly hurt a population. Chimpanzees also add to forest growth by spreading seeds through feces. God placed Chimpanzees in the forest to help the growth of forests and so we need them to exist in addition to the fact that they are the only animal spices in terms of DNA similarities closer to humans.
The sensitization campaign targeted law enforcement personnel like the police, military and customs officers deployed along the border areas/posts as well as officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) and Extension Officers. The target groups were in dire need of sensitization, the illegality surrounding some of the endangered spices and about their rights and authority to control the issue.
During the campaign, a survey was conducted during which the people were asked the type of work they do, age, if they eat bush meat/chimpanzee meat, how often they eat bush meat/chimpanzee meat, the source of the meat, the meaning of zoonosis and if they attended school.
They were also asked if they are aware that bush meat carry diseases, the meaning of Ebola and how to prevent it, if they are aware that it is illegal to eat chimpanzee meat, that a sick or infected chimpanzee or wild animal can infect a healthy person with diseases and if they have knowledge that it is illegal to kill, capture or sell chimpanzees.
Other questions were if the people are aware of bush meat and wildlife trade across the border and the benefits of protecting wildlife and the forests.
The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary Community Outreach Program facilitated a joint printed statement from the Sierra Leone Police and the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) as part of the sensitization materials that were posted at the border control posts and all the communities visited.
Funded by the European Union and the Government of Sierra Leone, Compagnie Sahelienne D Enterprises (CSE) is undertaking the construction of a paved road from Bandajuma (Sierra Leone) to Jendema, the Liberian border since 2016 in order to improve the connection between the two countries.
Human activities, such as road construction, can impact negatively on communities and ecosystems as well as exacerbate threats to spices such as the chimpanzees (e.g. habitat loss and fragmentation, bush meat and pet trade and disease transmission) and other wildlife.
Sierra Leone is home to the Western chimpanzee which is listed as Critically Endangered by the Spices Survival Commission (SSS) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Easy accessibility to Liberia through road poses risks to local communities and wildlife populations by increasing the bush meat consumption, pet trade and logging in areas previously not seriously impacted by anthropogenic pressures.
The lack of information within the communities drives villages to make decisions not favorable for the protection of the environment and their natural resources.
Therefore, the need to sensitize the communities to create awareness about the risks of consuming bush meat to avoid zoonotic diseases like Ebola as well as underscore the importance of wildlife protection and its habitats, need not be overemphasized.
Majority of the communities along theBandajuma-Liberia Road are Muslims who consider the consumption of bush meat, especially monkeys and chimpanzees, a taboo.
However, a better access between the two countries, can promote the illegal trade as an easy and quick income generating activity.
Early this year, reports from the Gola Rainforest National Park, located on the Eastern side of the road, inform about the active human activities coming from Liberia that resulted to the wounding by gunshot of a Sierra Leonean Forest Guard.
Furthermore, the influx of expatriates in rural areas due to the road construction work also encourages the pet trade. Young chimpanzees and other wildlife are often sold to foreigners who are unaware that spices such as chimpanzees are internationally protected and are on the list of endangered spices.
Locals often think that chimpanzees are abundant and therefore there is no danger to reducing their population, the reason the target groups for the sensitization campaign were provided with information about wildlife trade, bush meat and zoonotic diseases through a PowerPoint presentation and film shows.
With over 22 years’ experience, the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary Community Outreach Program created awareness about the risks of both meat consumption and deforestation in addition to introducing to the communities the significance of the forest and its wildlife, underscoring key spices such as the Western chimpanzees.
During the campaign, posters with the logo of the European Union were distributed to communities to spread the message in addition to a printed document jointly signed by the Sierra Leone Police and the National Protected Area Authority clearly stating the illegality of endangered spices, bush meat hunting and wildlife trade. The posters were displayed in the border and other control posts while environmental films and documentaries were screened.
The Bandajuma Road affects a total of 36 villages that were sensitized.
The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary Community Outreach Program covered all the communities, workers of CSE and security personnel along the border posts.