In February 2020, I visited the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Here I share my experience from traveling there independently to photographing the chimpanzees.
How to Travel to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Firstly, before you can take a tour, you must get to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It’s located in the forested areas surrounding Freetown. Allow at least 45 minutes to get here from central Freetown.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Tour
Tour times are twice daily at 10:30 am as well as at midday. You must arrive at least 15 minutes in advance to buy your ticket which costs around $15. I didn’t call ahead to check availability and there were 4 others on my tour. However, for peace of mind, you may wish to call ahead and tell them you’re coming.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary Museum
The advantage of arriving early for your tour is that you can read about the sanctuary in the museum. There are numerous information boards which tell you why chimpanzees need to be rescued. It’s illegal to have a pet chimpanzee in Sierra Leone yet there is still a market for it. In addition, there are some who eat chimpanzee meat.
Start the Chimpanzee Sanctuary Tour
You will be called by the guide and given information as you begin your tour. All visitors must wear a face mask to prevent any transmission of germs between you and the chimpanzees. The guide will also explain the chimpanzees behave, what they eat, where they live and how they communicate etc. Lastly, the guide will explain some of their more interesting behaviors such as using tools or dancing.
You will visit 5 different areas of the sanctuary. Chimpanzees are in separate sections depending on their stage of rehabilitation and also which family they are part of. As you walk between the different areas, enjoy the forest as it’s a lovely escape from the busy streets of Freetown.
Will I See Chimpanzees?
You’re not guaranteed to see chimpanzees in every area of the sanctuary. Nonetheless, I saw numerous chimpanzees in all of the 5 different areas.
Chimpanzees may come and bang against the fence or even throw rocks at you. For this reason, walk sensibly, calmly as well as quietly as you observe and photograph them.
How to Photography the Chimpanzees
Firstly, my photos of these chimps are not super sharp images because it’s mobile photography. I was traveling overland through Senegal, Bissau, Guinea and Liberia therefore couldn’t safely bring my DSLR. However, if I could this is what I’d recommend. Photographers don’t need telling that a camera with zoom is required and I’d recommend at least a 200 mm lens. What’s more, the chimpanzees are enclosed by fences therefore you’ll be photographing down on them. You cannot get close to the fences as they could damage your camera. The chimpanzee I photographed above using the 125 mm periscope lens on my phone could be vastly improved by using a larger lens with DSLR. Imagine a crisp profile of his face with the green background blurred. You cannot get closer than this to the chimpanzees unless of course you’re on a media visit.
Each Chimpanzee Has a Name
Your guide will call each chimpanzee by their name. Additionally, there are posters of each of the chimpanzees. In fact, there’s an adoption program which you can join.
Once upon a time there was a white chimpanzee known as Pinkie in the sanctuary. Not only was she white but she also had different colored eyes. Pinkie was regarded to be the only albino chimpanzee in the world. Unfortunately, she’s no longer with us but there’s a mural on display for all to see.
Enjoy Your Visit to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Freetown, Sierra Leone
There is a lot to learn during your Chimpanzee Sanctuary Tour. Pay attention and respect the chimpanzees as well as the tour guide. You may even learn a new language during your visit!