FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone outlawed the capture and killing of chimpanzees on Wednesday, declaring a one-month amnesty for anyone holding a chimp to hand it over to authorities in the war-ravaged West African nation.
A statement from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources read on national radio said anyone violating the new regulations would face a fine of up to $1,000 or a prison sentence.
"It is now illegal by law to posses, capture, kill or keep chimpanzees," said the statement.
"To provide the public sufficient time to surrender chimps in their possession a month's notice is hereby given for chimps to be handed over to the authorities."
The government has established a chimp orphanage at Charlotte, in the outskirts of the coastal capital Freetown, to receive chimps from the public.
Ecologists say Sierra Leone's wild chimpanzee population has declined dramatically since around 20,000 in the 1970s as a result of hunting, incursions on their territory and the trade in pets and animals for scientific research.
Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, during which drug-fuelled rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) hacked limbs off civilians, drove many of its 6 million inhabitants from the countryside.
Conservationists say that wildlife populations, including chimpanzees, recovered as a result of rural depopulation caused by the war, but the return of villagers in the wake of a 2002 peace deal has resulted in the destruction of habitant, more hunting, and trapping of rare animals for sale overseas.
The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the outskirts of Freetown, which was closed last year after 30 of its chimps escaped and killed a taxi driver, was reopened just four weeks ago.