Forest across from Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone.
© CI/Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
The decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone destroyed all research and tourism infrastructure on Tiwai Island, seriously jeopardizing its one-of-a-kind ecosystem and world-class wildlife sanctuary. When peace was declared in 2001, the Environmental Foundation for Africa, with support from CI and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and in partnership with Njala University College, the Forestry Department and the local communities, rebuilt the facilities on Tiwai and rekindled local support and national and international interest in the sanctuary.
However the small inland island in the River Moa, home to hundreds of plant and animal species, including 11 primate types – including wild chimpanzees that use stones as hammers and tree roots as anvils to crack open nuts – 135 bird species and the endangered pygmy hippopotamus, remains threatened by the livelihood activities of neighboring communities, as they grapple with the medium- to long-term impacts of the civil war, especially the growing poverty and economic and social deprivation.
With reconstruction of the island’s infrastructure now complete, efforts are under way to attract scientific researchers and eco-tourists to the island. We continue to help train communities to accommodate visitors and build the capacity of the Tiwai Island Administrative Committee (TIAC), the local entity charged with managing Tiwai Island in the long term. Most recently, efforts have focused on increasing benefits to communities surrounding the island to improve their livelihoods and generate support for the initiative. Tiwai Island is an exceptional model for community-led conservation with great potential to become self-sustaining in the next three to five years.
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