By Foday Moriba Conteh
Loma Mountains National Park (LMNP) holds the Highest Concentration of Chimpanzees anywhere in West and Central Africa. It is one of the four national parks in Sierra Leone, and is regarded as one of the most biologically-diverse forests in the country of both flora and fauna species and home to 20% of Sierra Leone’s chimpanzee population. The spread of logging to the periphery and in some cases the buffer of LMNP has led to several changes in the social structure and function of the communities close to the Park. As a result, this has increased the threat level on the biophysical status of LMNP as well as the Critically Endangered Western Chimpanzees.
In March 2019, The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary (TCS) research team conducted a chimpanzee nest count survey done in LMNP, as part of a one-year project funded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). The survey confirmed that the estimated chimpanzee density for the LMNP is 4.81 chimpanzee/km2 and harbours a population of 1,390 chimpanzees [range: 819-2361] a 79% higher as compared to 2010’s Sierra Leone National Chimpanzee Census Project conducted by TCS. The recorded density represents the highest concentration of chimpanzees anywhere in West and Central Africa.
LMNP is without a doubt a stronghold for a significant chimpanzee population. There is the need to protect Sierra Leone’s national animal and safeguard one of the highest densities of chimpanzee population anywhere in Africa. This can be achieved by:
* Raising awareness and educating the communities concerning the dangers of deforestation, and poaching wildlife (especially endangered and critically endangered species).·
* Strengthening community conservation through alternative livelihood initiatives and job creation opportunities such as bio-monitoring technicians and eco-guides;
* Undertaking strict monitoring and patrols around the National Park to stop illegal activities.
In addition to the chimpanzee census, here are some of the key activities delivered by Tacugama in LMNP during 2019:
* Hired and training community members as eco-guides to patrol around the National Park;
* distributed groundnut seeds, rice and goats to communities around LMNP;
* 27 farmer groups were registered under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF)
* Held community meetings in 16 villages and two towns on the importance of LMNP, the wildlife and the national park status, ecotourism;
* Planted over 20,000 trees in LMNP’s buffer zones;
* Conducted a 12-day ranger refreshing training.
Overview of Ranger Training
Tacugama welcomed the State Rangers from 3 different National Park for a 12-day refresher training in collaboration with NPAA, ISAT, RSLAF, SLP and Loma Community eco-guards. The training, sponsored by USFWS, was geared towards benefitting the safeguarding of endangered western chimpanzees and other wildlife of the Loma Mountains National Park, Western Area Peninsula National Park and Gola Rainforest National Park, respectively in the NE, SW and SE of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The training which concluded on 12th December 2019- marked the extension of Tacugama’s activities towards a holistic approach to conservation in Sierra Leone through livelihood, education, research, wildlife law enforcement and park management.
Ecotourism in LMNP
Tacugama intends to establish an ecotourism venture in LMNP to ensure the project’s sustainability and promote the area’s rich biodiversity (both locally and internationally). LMNP covers 288.5 km2 and the mountains are a granite massif, the tallest of which is Mt. Bintumani, at 1945 m, the tallest peak in West Africa west of Mt. Cameroon. There are 9 species that are endemic to LMNP and 13 additional species have been recently discovered that were previously not recorded before.
Due to LMNP’S altitude, there is a rich bird fauna (332 species) including many species not found elsewhere in the country. While on the ground, the presence of forest elephants, golden cats, bay duikers, black duikers, bongos, forest buffalos, leopards and water chevrotain confirms LMNP’s diverse wildlife inventory. Although not part of the chimpanzee survey, observations of the elusive Pygmy Hippos as well as White-necked Picathartes nests were also recorded due to their uniqueness. Picathartes nests were recorded in three different locations inside the LMNP.
Call for Support
Tacugama strongly urges the Government of Sierra Leone and the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA) in charge of supervising all protected areas in the country and its biodiversity to secure efficient and effective measures to protect the LMNP in conjunction with Tacugama.