T R AV E L
These African lodges lead the way in wildlife conservation here’s where to see majestic animals and help to preserve their habitat in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and South Africa.
BY KAREN CARMICHAEL
Wildlife excursions in Africa are going deeper, highlighting less-visited regions and ecosystems while also leading the charge for conservation in innovative ways. Here are three unconventional safaris in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and South Africa that reveal as well as protect the extraordinary animals that travelers long to see.
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Sierra Leone Why go: This pioneering chimpanzee center helps advance the legacy of Jane Goodall. Inspired by a conversation with primatologist and National Geographic explorer Jane Goodall about two chimps he had rescued, Tacugama founder Bala Amarasekaran opened a chimpanzee sanctuary and rehabilitation center in Sierra Leone in 1995.
Since its founding, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary has sheltered hundreds of critically endangered western chimpanzees, many of them orphans rescued from wildlife trafficking or from being hunted for bushmeat. The chimps roam five semi-forested enclosures, some as large as 16 acres, on the sanctuary’s grounds in Western Area Peninsula Park, a biodiversity hotspot. Viewing platforms allow visitors to see the chimps’ human-like behavior up close—they’re our closest living relatives with a 98.6 percent DNA match—and extended stays in the sanctuary’s treehouse lodges showcase life in the rainforest. “You wake up in the canopy, amongst the trees, to the smell of orchid perfume,” says Aram Kazandjian, Tacugama’s development manager.
All proceeds go toward the sanctuary’s operation and other conservation projects. Tacugama has also taken a leading role in national policy and international advocacy, working with the Sierra Leone government, the World Bank, and Interpol to prevent wildlife trafficking, tighten laws on bushmeat hunting, and add environmental workbooks to the school curriculum. “We’re still receiving baby and orphan chimpanzees at an alarming rate,” Kazandjian says. “Species are driven to extinction by human activities, and we have to fight that.”
When Goodall visited in February 2019, the sanctuary had a surprise for her: Due to Tacugama’s initiative, Sierra Leone https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/new-safari-trends-africa/ 10/12/2019, 11>15 Page 1 of 4 has now named the chimpanzee its national animal. Safari planner: On September 5, 2019, Sierra Leone launched a visa-on-arrival program, making it much easier for travelers to visit the country. An easy 35-minute drive from Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, the sanctuary offers daily tours or overnight stays in its six ecolodges, which are designed as treehouses or traditional roundhouses and have decks with outdoor hammocks overlooking the rainforest. Tacugama is developing the first ecotourism circuit around the country, to include Jaibui Island and Loma Mountains National Park.