Bala Amarasekaran of Sierra Leone has been nominated for the 2020 Indianapolis Prize, one of the world’s best animal conservation awards. He is the founder of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, which takes care of more than 100 chimpanzees that are orphaned and critically endangered.
Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary is located in the Western Area Peninsula National Park just outside Freetown in Sierra Leone. The country is home to the third largest population of the great apes in West Africa.
Originally from Sri Lanka, Amarasekaran was a teenager when he moved to Sierra Leone. In 1985, he and his wife Sharmila Amarasekaran were travelling through a village 150 miles from Freetown when they encountered a weak baby chimpanzee tied to a tree, bought the chimpanzee for $20 and named him Bruno.
Aside from Bruno, the couple rescued six other chimpanzees, which are all accommodated in their house. From 1989 to 1992, Bala and fellow chimpanzee champion Rosalind Alp conducted an investigation into pet chimpanzee numbers in Sierra Leone and found 55 captive chimpanzees in Freetown alone.
In 1995, Bala founded the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Putting an end to the chimpanzee pet trade in Sierra Leone and having rescued and rehabilitated more than 150 chimpanzees, it is now one of the world’s most successful chimpanzee rehabilitation centers.
Including Bala, 31 leaders in conservation from around the world are nominated for the 2020 Indianapolis Prize. The winner will receive $250,000 while each of the five finalists will get $10,000.
The finalists and the winner will be honored on September 12, 2020 at the Indianapolis Prize Gala presented by Cummins Inc. Indianapolis Zoo president Dr. Rob Shumaker told WTHR, “These remarkable Nominees are responsible for some of the finest conservation work occurring on our planet today.”
“They lead, protect, inspire, and offer hope for everyone who cares about the natural world,” Shumaker continued. “I am immensely proud that we can highlight their important achievements through the Indianapolis Prize.”
In 2017, Bala received the Sole Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Project Distinction award in Sierra Leone. Here is a clip featuring the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary: