Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project

Preserving a population of critically endangered Wild chimpanzees

Mission: To seek out and implement conservation strategies that ensure the preservation of a population of wild chimpanzees in the ecologically imperiled Tonkolili District of Sierra Leone and empower local communities to become partners in these strategies; and in turn, sharing these methods to impact chimpanzee conservation efforts throughout Africa.

Protecting a population

Due to unprecedented rates of deforestation, many chimpanzee communities across West Africa find themselves living in small forest fragments and alongside human villages. In fact, a 2010 census of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone found that most chimpanzees live in these unprotected situations rather than inside forest preserves. The result is an ever increasing frequency of human-chimpanzee interactions. For humans, this means that they often lose crops to chimpanzees. Additionally, chimpanzees can be very dangerous neighbors, withreports of chimpanzee attacks on humans as well as livestock commonplace. This often means that the chimpanzees are hunted by humans, as a means of resource defense. Chimpanzees are also frequently the victims of capture for the illegal pet trade—and researchers estimate that up to 10 adults are killed for every infant that poachers manage to capture Finally, for both humans and chimpanzees, frequent interactions can lead to disease transmission.In sum, frequent human-chimpanzee interactions, coupled with habitat loss, is a conservation crisis.

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization seeking to find methods of addressing chimpanzee conservation in a heavily anthropogenic area where human-chimpanzee interactions are common

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Site

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Site is located in Central Sierra Leone alongside the Pampana River. The site is home to two communities of chimpanzees. The chimpanzees in this area live in a forest farm mosaic alongside several human villages. Habitat loss in the region is such that the Tonkolili chimpanzees now rely on the crops grown by humans to survive.

Complicating the circumstances, the humans at this site face extreme poverty. The crops that are destroyed by the chimpanzees represent an extreme problem with significant consequences to the very survivability of the human population.  Because of this, chimpanzees in this area were frequently killed prior to 2012.

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project initially began in 2012 as an agreement between the local villages and a group of primatologists and conservationists. The villages would receive aide with sustainable agriculture in return for a complete moratorium on killing chimpanzees., Since this time, the project has grown, and members of the local community have become paid staff on the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project - monitoring the population through camera traps, biological sampling, and observations, while protecting the population from harm.

Information sharing

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project seeks to inform other chimpanzee conservation intiatives by sharing what methods have been successful as well as what methods have not worked. The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project believes that chimpanzee conservation must be centered on empowering local communities to protect the chimpanzees in their area. Therefore, the Tonkoilili Chimpanzee Project can be a tremendous resource to other community-based approaches to conservation.

The Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project is proud to be an official program partner of Chimpanzee SAFE.

Board of Directors

Andrew R. Halloran, PhD

Andrew R. Halloran is the Director of Chimpanzee Behavior & Care at Save the Chimps, a private chimpanzee sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida; home to over 200 chimpanzees retired from laboratories, entertainment, and the pet trade. Andrew received his PhD from Florida Atlantic University studying chimpanzee communication and behavior. Andrew co-founded the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project with Tina Cloutier Barbour in 2012. He is the author of the book Song of the Ape.

tina Cloutier Barbour, PhD

Dr. Tina Cloutier Barbour is a co-founder of the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project and is currently the Curator of Conservation, Research & Chimpanzees at a large zoological facility in South Florida. She is also the Program Leader for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Chimpanzee SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) program, a highly collaborative project that utilizes a One Plan Approach to conservation—successfully bridging the gap between in-situ and ex-situ conservation professionals while simultaneously engaging the public sector in chimpanzee conservation outcomes. Her areas of specialization include conservation and evolutionary ecology, as well as chimpanzee aging and reproduction.

Catherine E. Bolten, PhD

Catherine Bolten received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology in 2008 and is currently Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame. She has been working in Sierra Leone since 2003 and has published extensively on issues of agriculture, youth, and post-war development. Cat joined the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project in 2014 to deepen the project's ability to engage productively with local communities.

sheku kamara, PhD

Dr. Kamara is the Executive Director of the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone. CSSL’s Mission is to “promote the wise use and conservation of Sierra Leone’s natural resources so that wildlife and people benefit” through Education, Advocacy, Research and Site Action. It has a long history of protecting the environment, working in partnerships and educating communities on sustainable uses of natural resources across the country in coastal/mangrove key biodiversity areas, Lake Sonfon, Tonkolili Forest, Gola Rainforest National Park, Kambui Hills community forests and the Western Area Peninsula (WAP) Forest.

Torjia Sahr Karimu

Torjia Sahr Karimu started conservation-related work in 2001 as a volunteer and then graduate trainee with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL). The former and the latter roles were partially supported via a Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) capacity building Project. Torjia jointly helped to begin the Sierra Leone Sea Turtle Conservation effort at the CSSL as well as a nation-wide environmental radio broadcast via the United Nations Radio FM 103. Later, Torjia went on to work as Education and Communications Officer at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Torjia's work included interpretative designs, education and guide to visitors, coordination of the Sierra Leone Nature Clubs (school-based environmental clubs) as well as chimp observation and care. Since 2005, Torjia's professional career has encompassed a broader national community-based chimpanzee conservation and sensitization Programme with local and international partners. Torjia holds a Master of Forest Science (MFS) from Yale, a M.Sc. in Environmental Biology and a B.Sc with honors in Applied Ecology from the University of Sierra Leone and Njala University Sierra Leone respectively. 

Janette Wallis, PhD

Janette Wallis serves as co-Vice Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group’s Africa Section. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Janette Wallis serves as co-Vice Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Primate Specialist Group’s Africa Section. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal African Primates, the Primate Specialist Group’s journal devoted to the nonhuman primates of Africa, and co-authored (with Anne Russon) the book Primate Tourism: A Tool for Conservation? in 2014. She is a Board Member of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Africa Section and heads up the Young Women in Conservation 

Publications about the Tonkolili Site