History of Conservation in Sierra Leone

Following in Teleki’s Footsteps

The Outamba Kilimi National Park is the brainchild of famed primate conservationist Dr. Geza Teleki. He helped take an area that achieved Game Reserve status, in name only, as hunting still continued throughout the area (and indeed still happens today), and helped it grow towards the National Park is it today. 

When Teleki began to push for the government to declare the area a national park in 1980 he was met with resistance. Even though the park did not contain land preferred for farming, and held little value as far as mining operations were concerned, it still brought in money through wildlife export. For years Sierra Leone was the number one exporter of chimpanzees, thanks in large part to Frans Sitter, notorious chimpanzee trader. The majority of Sitter’s chimpanzees were taken from what would become the Outamba Kilimi National Park.

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Geza Teleki working with local chiefs in the villages surrounding the proposed protected area

The World Wildlife Fund-US was a major supporter of Teleki’s early days of attempting to establish the Outamba Kilimi National Park, despite the government’s hesitancy to support the project. With WWF-US’s support and under Teleki’s guidance he accomplish a multitude of things:

  • Hired 15 Ministry of Wildlife staff and 22 local workmen
  • Created Kaba Headquarters which had complete solar power hookup
  • Built lodgings for staff, tourists, and researchers
  • Created trails and tree-top viewing platforms for tourists
  • Set up an international radio link at Kaba HQ
  • Created a small nature conservation library at Kaba HQ
  • Had 2 trucks and 7 motorcycles at the disposal of staff to make supply runs and to conduct patrols in distant parts of the park
  • Had several locally made canoes as well as zodiac inflatable boats for river patrols and sight-seeing
  • Funded the planting of over 600 fruit trees, and pineapple plantations to be used by staff and wildlife
  • Funded the cultivation of cassava, rice, beans, peppers, and other staples outside the park to help make the area as self-sufficient as possible
  • Created a small wildlife orphanage to rehabilitate and release certain species back into the park
  • Created education programs for park staff (who had no official training) specifically dealing with species identification, the purpose of conserving nature, and how to assist visiting researchers
  • These staff were then expected to make regular anti-poaching/farming/logging patrols through the park to discourage these activities

This work not only created a space for wildlife to exist without the threats that faced the animals in the rest of the country, but also provided reliable work for many local communities. In fact, Teleki’s future-wife and fellow researcher, Heather McGiffin, stated in a 1985 article titled “A New National Park in Sierra Leone” that

“the African staff was responsive to this hands-on approach to building a park, which often involved strenuous labor… coupled with classroom and field training programs. Some even expressed appreciation for the long-term benefits such a project held for the country and for their children, who would now have ‘pride’ in the national park their fathers were building.”

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Heather McGiffin in Sierra Leone

Unfortunately all of the infrastructure created by Teleki, McGiffin, and their team was destroyed during the Sierra Leonean Civil War. And while tourist accommodations have been rebuilt, and a research station with solar hookup was completed in 2013, there remains only a scant trace of what Teleki hoped the park would become.

Unfortunately Teleki passed away on the 7th of January, 2014. The Pan Verus Project hopes to follow in Teleki’s footsteps and use his accomplishments and goals for the Outamba Kilimi National Park as a guide for re-establishing a significant conservation effort in the area. The above list of Teleki’s accomplishments is being modified by PVP to fit the current needs of the park and the communities around it.

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The fully built, but completely empty, research station at Outamba

Major focuses of PVP include re-establishing the Outamba Kilimi National Park as a research site through the improvement of the current research station, creating training opportunities for park staff, and the reinstitution of park patrols to discourage illegal activity. PVP also plans to focus heavily on sustainable agriculture projects to help alleviate food insecurity in the area as well as the strain on the park’s resources as well as to create work opportunities for people in the area. The project is also beginning research into how to best expand the tourism opportunities in the area so that they have the maximum benefit for the local people while still maintaining guest satisfaction.

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