Good practice - Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary - EFA/Sierra Leone - MDG 7, 8

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See also List of Good practice - International Cooperation Projects on MDGs (documentary notes - temporary page)

For mail of presentation of the work in progress for Documentary see this page



Related to this Project see this Documentary scene - Sierra Leone - EFA - MDG 7, 8 - Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary


Main information on the project


  • Name and description of the Organization leading the project: Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) - The Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) aims to protect and restore the environment in West Africa. For over 15 years, EFA has: led environmental education (EE) and awareness raising campaigns; restored degraded lands and conserved pristine forests; minimized the impacts of civil war on the environment and its inhabitants and equipped thousands of people with sustainable livelihood skills such as agroforestry. Today, capitalizing on its wealth of experience, EFA specializes in environmental awareness raising and capacity building at the national, regional and international levels using high impact communications tools and training programs to build an environmentally conscious society motivated to maintain the integrity of nature in Africa.


  • Project funded by: EFA - supported by EU
  • For general issues, social, political and economic context of the Country where the project has location, see: Sierra Leone profile


  • Project Synopsis


Tiwai is a community conservation programme, managed by the Tiwai Island Administrative Committee (TIAC), which represents both communities, government, Universities & conservation organizations. All funds raised go towards running the project as well as supporting the Community Development Fund, to help finance community initiated programmes.

The Tiwai Island Project aims to generate sustainable income and to protect culture and biodiversity in the region surrounding the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary through a Health Village based on the principles of West African ethnomedicine and an Ecotourism Centre.

Located in the last remnants of the Upper Guinea Tropical Rainforest, Tiwai Island is rich in biodiversity, with hundreds of species living in a small area. It is surrounded by traditional communities who are still actively using their indigenous knowledge of the forest and its resources. Building on existing conservation initiatives, the partnership aims to conserve this cultural and biodiversity by using it as a foundation for alternative, modern livelihoods for the surrounding communities. Near the Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary, the partners intend to construct a Health Village, both employing local communities. The Village will offer tourists unique healing arts and health services based on Sierra Leonean ethnomedicine.

An eco-sustainable development based on the respect and manteinance of the envirenment is so powerful that  in 2007 Tiwai won a SEED (Supporting Entrepreneurs for Environment and Development) award, a biennial competition highlighting innovative and entrepreneurial multi-stakeholder partnerships for locally-led sustainable development. The award is for the Tiwai Island Health and Fitness Centre, a facility to provide health services based on principles of West African ethno-medicine as it represented a unique partnership between a traditional healer association, an academic institution and local communities helping to protect biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods for local communities.



Historical and environmental data

Sierra Leone is situated in the Upper Guinea Rainforest region, and over 70% of the country’s land area was once covered by primary tropical forests. Today, the forest is fragmented and only 5% remains. The most significant block of the remaining primary forest is concentrated in the East/South-East – the Gola rainforest bordering Liberia.

The Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the Moa River, bordering the Gola Rainforest Reserve and is a part of the remaining Upper Guinea Rainforest in Sierra Leone. Tiwai Island provides a unique environment for eco-tourism and research with a vast biodiversity on a relatively small area, 12 km². The density and diversity of wildlife is high with 11 primate species including both threatened and endangered species such as chimpanzee and olive colobus; pygmy hippopotamus; the white-breasted guinea fowl; the Jentinks’s duiker. The forest is also home to approximately 600 plant species including several valuable trees (timber, food and medicines) and some endemic herbaceous plants.

In 1982, by decree of local Paramount Chiefs, hunting on Tiwai Island was banned and farming restricted. Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary was established following a formal request by the communities living around the island; including Kambama, Sahun, Jenneh, Niahun and Boma in Barri Chiefdom, Pujehun District; Mapuma, Segwema and Ngiema in Koya Chiefdom, Kenema District, and was legally gazetted as a Sierra Leone Chiefdom Wildlife Sanctuary under the Wildlife Conservation Act in1987.

In 1988, the Koya and Barri Chiefdoms, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Forestry, set up the 

During the near decade war in Sierra Leone and following the departure of rebel control, the communities around Tiwai maintained some level of vigilance on Tiwai Island, although small scale hunting and farming activities were ongoing. The Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary renewed operation as an eco-tourism & ecological research facility in 2002. Initial project developments, including construction of new facilities, set up of new management system, development of promotional materials and so forth, has been funded by the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF), and financing of this project phase will be completed in May 2005.

After rebuilding the island’s tourism and research infrastructure and building community support for the Wildlife Sanctuary, EFA supports community development for the communities who own Tiwai Island while working  on raising TIAC’s (Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary) capacity to attract visitors to the island.

TIAC was established with the idea that the surrounding communities would protect the island from logging, mining, and poaching in exchange for community development and livelihood assistance. Tiwai Island is a leading ecotourism destination and research facility which attracts visitors and researchers from all over the world. The conservation of the island benefits local communities through training opportunities and employment from ecotourism. Revenues earned are put back into the communities for local development.

The majority of the local population are farmers, growing rice, the staple food, groundnut (peanuts), beans and cassava. These communities are surrounded by a variety of fruit trees including, banana, mango, kola nut, orange, papaya, breadfruit and grapefruit. The majority of people living in these communities are Mende. The predominant religion is Muslim, but there are small numbers of Christians as well.



  • Objectives:
    Short Term Objectives:
  1. To enter the tourism industry, both nationally and internationally, with a marketable, quality facility to promote Tiwai Island as an eco-tourism destination, as well as encourage national interest in the uniqueness of Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary. The Village is going to offer health services as well, based on Sierra Leonean ethnomedicine.

    Long Term Objectives:

  1. To protect Tiwai Island’s unique national biodiversity status, preserving the diversity of rare and endangered species and their habitats. 
  2. To offer a high standard research facility for ongoing ecological research, valuable to the efficient management of Tiwai Island and contributing to a global understanding of our natural environment. 
  3. To develop Tiwai Island as an education centre, helping visitors to be aware of and appreciate the beauty and value of this national heritage.
  4. To ensure that maximum profits are funnelled back to the communities who claim ancestral ownership of Tiwai Island, benefiting community development.


  • Beneficiaries:

Target groups: While it is important to encourage as many visitors to Tiwai Island as possible, it is equally important to establish the holding capacity of Tiwai Island in relation to the ecological impact of visitors. In other words, to develop a maximum number who may stay on the island at any one time. In order to ensure as little impact on Tiwai’s delicate ecology and the unique peace
and comfort for visitors, it is strongly recommended that further research be conducted in this field to guarantee a balance between conservation and revenue production.

As an educational and research centre, Tiwai Island will focus on a number of different target groups to achieve its main objectives:

  • National Tourists (communities, schools, institutions, business groups and general public - this category is not the financial target group, as visitor fees for national tourists is currently, and will continue to be, lower than for international visitors, and host communities have free access to the island and thus have no direct financial contribution to Tiwai Island. However, this target group is of equal value to the project objectives as increased local and national awareness of conservation issues and the value of Tiwai Island are directly connected to the future sustainability and protection of this project).
  • Expatriate Tourists (International aid personnel - United Nations & donor organizations - business and individual residents of Sierra Leone. This category is presently the most financially viable visitor target group and has todate, produced the most revenue for Tiwai Island. A large number of donor organizations in Sierra Leone have resulted in a significant rise in expatriate short-term
    residents, approximately 3,000 at present. Always searching for sites to visit and activities to take part in, this target group have regularly visited Tiwai as overnight visitors. This group often spread news of new sites to visit by word of mouth, making them a promotional tool. However, it is important to note that this group could equally cause disaster to Tiwai’s objectives should individuals be unsatisfied or experience a negative stay on Tiwai. It is, therefore, essential that this target group are kept satisfied during their visits to Tiwai. The number of expatriate visitors to Tiwai Island should increase following the promotional campaign planned in late 2004.
  • International Tourists: Non resident international public. Tourism in Sierra Leone has not, by any means, reached the potential it holds. This is due to a variety of factors, one being influenced by the somewhat negative media coverage and memories of a former war zone. In addition, there is a lack of national tour operators promoting in country provincial tours, as the focus is primarily on
    bringing tourists to visit the beautiful coastal region. Only one national tour operator has shown interest in promoting Tiwai and while they are the largest tourist company in the country, much of their focus would be on gaining the interest of the expatriate circles. Three international tourist agencies have expressed interest in developing a tour package, including Tiwai as one of the destinations, to be marketed in the UK, targeting groups of ‘adventurous’ travellers, who are more apt to travel to unusual and sometimes media presented volatile destinations as a challenging holiday experience. The concept of eco-tourism, however, is taking ground within the Ministry of Tourism and various negotiations with large international tour operators has resulted in
    attempting to meet certain standards and focus promotional campaigns accordingly. While this target group may not be a financial target in the short-term, it is believed that as Sierra Leone continues to experience peace, eco-tourism will take off significantly and Sierra Leone could potentially host a large number of international tourists. The marketing and promotional campaign must give focus to further establishing contacts within the international tourist sector. The projections for visitation has given this target group a minimum, but realistic, visitor numbers, but is dependent on a successful promotional campaign.
  • National and International Researchers: Njala University College (NUC), Fourah Bay College (FBC) and other higher education institutions. International Universities and Institutions.
    This target group are potentially the most financially profitable group of visitors. Ecological field research sites are in great demand and competition among Universities and institutions to gain ‘control’ of areas of research as well as find new placements for their students, is high.
    They can encourage more interest and opportunities to national and international students who may gain field experience in data collection. Since this target group are the future generation of potential professionals and decision-makers in the conservation field, it is vital to enable them to have a sufficient understanding of the environments them may later help to protect.
    If Tiwai Island is to compete with other global research sites, it must compete in standards as well. To gain interest from this target group, a focused marketing plan must be developed based on Tiwai’s Unique Selling Points (USPs), so as to attract a wide variety of academic fields in the potential for new discoveries in their field. In addition, the project must make further investments to compete with the quality facilities offered elsewhere. It is not enough to assume that the basic facilities will attract international interest in collaborative research.
  • Local people. The island is surrounded by eight communities three in the Kenema District, Koya Chiefdom, namely: Mapuma , Ngiema , Shegbema and five in Pujehun District, Barri Chiefdom, namely, Kambama, Saihun, Niahun, Jenneh, Boma. All the eight host communities have direct access to the Island except Saihun.


  • Problem addressed: protection of biodiversity as a resource for local people through eco - tourism
Difficulties: Until recently, the only international media coverage of Sierra Leone has been of shocking images of amputees and a war ravaged country. With the lack of international reporting of positive developments, or even indeed the act of peace in Sierra Leone and such a history of imagery, it has, naturally, tainted the view of the international community and challenged the Government to attempt to bring a sense of current reality to the television screens and newspapers across the world – in a bid to develop the potentially vibrant tourism industry in Sierra Leone. With this in mind, it will take long to change international travel advice to Sierra Leone, which, while not adversely negative, advises to travel on necessity, rather than pleasure. While the initial project start was shortly following the decade of war in Sierra Leone, it was assumed that the peace process would enable a more positive international travel advice as well as some developments within the national tourism sector. Unfortunately, travel advice remains as 'only where necessary' & is a deterrent to tour operators both national & international, attempting to promote Tiwai as a tourist destination.
  • Implementing (executing) partners: Tiwai Island Administrative Committee  (TIAC)
  • Methodology:
  1. Raising awareness of environmental issues in all sectors of the populations in the West African region;
  2. Working with other partners in the re-integration of returnee communities to minimise the negative environmental impacts of reconstruction and other recovery projects;
  3. Promoting sustainable livelihoods for environmental protection and conservation through community-based initiatives, such as eco-tourism;
  4. Providing technical assistance and advice on environmental issues in efforts to mainstream environmental interventions into all humanitarian and development work;

  • Expected positive impacts: preservation of the biodiversity to ensure benefits for local communities that directly involved. Grow up a national and international interest towards the eco-tourism possibility


  • Results:

Tiwai Island was opened to visitors in February 2003 and has, to date, been hosting overnight guests at the Visitors Centre on a regular basis. In addition, students, mainly from the Njala University College (NUC), have been conducting a series of research projects on Tiwai Island, results from which are being incorporated into the management of the wildlife sanctuary.

Presently, Tiwai Island offers a Visitors and Research Centre, with basic camping facilities and guided tours. Tourists are hosted in a variety of tented accommodation and offered a number of guided tours by local experts who are able to share information about the ecology, mythology and traditional cultural activities on and around Tiwai Island. This is the only site in Sierra Leone that offers such a well established eco-tourism facility boasting a near guarantee of observing some of the rarest wildlife in Sierra Leone and indeed in the world.



  • Quality Indicators:
  • Lessons learned:
  • Replicability of the experience
  • Tools for dissemination and streamlining:



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