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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View: Salone government just received millions. Why not invest in Tacugama Sanctuary?

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

My visit to the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary two Fridays ago was not only eye opening, but a lot of fun. My colleagues and I saw chimpanzees with just a thin fence between us, and we learned so much from the sanctuary’s expert and devoted staff. My visit convinced me that the sanctuary is a perfect investment for the Sierra Leone government.
As founder Bala Amarasekaren and other staffers explained, the sanctuary is many things in one. All of these things are good for Sierra Leone. It rescues and rehabilitates abandoned chimps, which saves them from a sad life in captivity  and saves local people from the havoc of having to keep a pet six times as strong as a human. The sanctuary has recently moved beyond its original mission and boldly gone after deforestation, poaching and the pet trade, the root causes of orphaned, abandoned and slaughtered chimps. Tacugama is working to save a majestic, irreplaceable species, the chimpanzee, from extinction in Sierra Leone. And unlike some conservation groups in Africa, Tacugama works sensitively with local people to educate them on how they can live off the land while being gentler to the forest and wildlife.
Tourists love the sanctuary; it’s the number one attraction for Sierra Leone on the popular travel site Trip Advisor. These tourists tend to leave a money trail behind them, contributing Leones to the local economy. Unlike mining or oil, tourists are a renewable money maker for the country, as long as they keep coming.
The Sanctuary is a triple win for Sierra Leone, and an obvious target for more government investment.
Indeed, the sanctuary needs all the support it can get. Roads need an upgrade, the sanctuary needs more staff, and it needs money to continue its valuable work. Amarasekaren said he’s glad tourists are clamouring to visit the sanctuary, but he wants local people and the government to be more involved in their support.
“We are tired of people from the outside praising us all the time,” he told me and my colleagues when we visited.
Last Thursday, the Sierra Leone government received a total of $64 million USD — $34 million from the International Monetary Fund, and the rest from a capital gains tax after the sale of mobile phone company Airtel. According to Premier News, the Minister of Finance said this money will go toward the government budget, including investments in infrastructure.
I hope that money will go directly to helping improve Sierra Leone’s infrastructure and solving the problems in people’s lives. It’s not clear exactly how the budget will be distributed  how much will be dispersed to which programs and departments, for which projects. Hopefully, in the interests of accountability and transparency, this will become clearer as the Ministry of Finance releases more information to the press and the public.
But until then, it seems obvious to me that investing some of that money  even a tiny percentage  in the Tacugama Sanctuary would do a lot of good for the country. It would be a gift to sustainable, long-lasting conservation, research and tourism  not to mention a model for how Sierra Leone can develop its ecotourism industry and educate people in environmental sustainability. Tacugama is paving a path that more organizations, projects and parks will follow. But first, it needs support to pave that path  both literally and figuratively.
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Tuesday August 02, 2016

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