Sierra Leone – preliminary report

I got back from Sierra Leone a couple days ago. Unfortunately, despite much effort, I did not locate Pygmy Hippo. I came quite close – once seeing very fresh sign, and once hearing the sound of one jumping into the water (the prints indicated that it was never visible from my stakeout). I spent many hours on boat trips at Tiwai Island, and many hours staking out a salt lick at Gola NP in the hopes of seeing a Hippo. At Tiwai, the guide told me that a trip later in the dry season (March or April) would give a much better chance, as more of the riverbank is exposed at that time. The staff of Gola NP concurred, and suggested that the Hippos might come to the salt lick more frequently during the middle of the dry season. Apparently, the rains continued unusually late this year, and only ceased a week before my arrival. That also precluded access to a different salt lick at Gola, which would have afforded a chance at Zebra Duiker.

Apart from that, I did have a fairly successful trip, though I missed some diurnal species. The clear highlight was seeing two (White-bellied) Tree Pangolins on nightwalks. They are wonderful animals, and every bit as strange as I expected. Other mammals included  Beecroft’s and Lord Derby’s Anomalures,  lekking Hammer Bats (perhaps the most interesting bat in the world), Water Chevrotain, Bay and Maxwell’s Duikers, African Palm Civet,  Demidoff’s and Thomas’s Galagos, Potto, and eight species of monkeys.

The avian highlight was the very strange White-necked Picathartes, which I saw at a nesting colony. It’s easily the best bird I saw last year. I didn’t spend much time searching for other diurnal birds, but I did quite well at night. I had great views of the supposedly rare Rufous Fish Owl (with a few more heard), and also saw Fraser’s and Akun Eagle-Owls, White-backed Night-Heron, White-crested Tiger-Heron, and African Finfoot. I found several African Pittas roosting above the trail, another supposedly rare species that is probably quite common.

I’ll write up a trip report when I am done processing my photos, which could take several months. I’m still working on the ones I took in Peru last August. In the meantime, let me know if you’re interested in planning a trip to Sierra Leone this spring and I can send you more details.



  • Chris Roche

    Hi Ben … cool trip … pity about the hippo … would be interested to know which diurnal primates you saw and look forward to the full trip report and the images.

    • geomalia

      Here’s my diurnal primate list:
      1. Olive Colobus – seen in Gola Central. Also possible at Tiwai, but I tried at a “reliable” site twice without success.
      2. King Colobus – common at all sites
      3. Western Red Colobus – heard only at Tiwai, at night. Should be very easy to get during the day… I don’t know how I missed this even given my limited daytime hours. Part of it is that I thought I would see it at Gola, but rains made certain areas inaccessible.
      4. Sooty Mangabey – seen at Tiwai, heard at Gola Central.
      5. Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey – common at all sites
      6. Diana Monkey – common at all sites
      7. Campbell’s Monkey – common at Tiwai, heard at Gola Central
      8. Green Monkey -seen at Tiwai
      9. Chimpanzee – heard drumming distantly at Gola Central. The guide at Tiwai said they are pretty easy to see there in March/April (though I would take his information with a grain of salt)

  • Maurice Tijm

    Hi Ben, what a brilliant trip list. Exciting to hear that these species are still around and seeable at those sites. Was it hard to find and convince staff to do the activities you did (like night walks and staking out for long periods)?. What was the knowledge of the staff like? What is your overall impression of the natural state and long term survival possibilities of these sites?

    Looking forward to your photographs,

    Maurice Tijm

    • geomalia

      Hi Maurice,

      Tiwai is well-protected, but not very large. Most of the forest I walked in was degraded, but apparently there is some good forest on the island. Alusine (my guide) was happy to walk for long hours at night. I think he is knowledgeable, but he provided inconsistent/incorrect answers to several of my questions. I suspect he was trying to find the answer that would make me happiest, as many guides do.

      Gola is a huge park, with large areas of pristine forest. It is also adjacent to protected forest in Liberia. With sufficient funding, it could protect many species of Upper Guinea wildlife for years to come. The park is run by the RSPB, and the senior staff are western scientists who are very knowledgeable. As they would like to boost tourism to the park, they gave lots of attention to my visit, and assigned the chief park ranger and research technician to go with me as guides. Both were fine with my schedule. The research technician was knowledgeable, and knew the habits of the Hippos well.


  • Venkat Sankar

    Wow! What a list… Do you know how difficult it is to see some of the genets and Jentink’s Duiker at these sites? Really looking forward to the report.

    • geomalia

      Everyone I asked said Jentink’s Duiker was impossible. Even the field staff hadn’t seen it. There are records, however, and it may be possible to get one to come to a salt lick.

      The Genets are present, but no one knows anything about them. I have poor photos of a mystery Genet or abnormally patterned African Palm Civet (probably the latter). I’ll post them here later.

  • Ruben

    Where can i find the final report?

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