Imagine you hold a banana in your hand and before you say Jack a monkey appears from nowhere and snatches it away! That is not all.
The little naughty guy climbs up a tree, carefully unwraps the loot, makes eyes at you and teasingly eats your banana.
This is the game that awaits you when you visit the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary. Tafi Atome is near Hohoe in the Volta Region. In 1993 the land around the village of Tafi Atome was set aside as a sanctuary for the Mona Monkey population that lived in the forest that are seen as sacred.
One group of creatures we all seem to be endeared to is the ape family. Long long ago when the people of the village first migrated to the area they carried with them their fetish beliefs that revolved around the tortoise and the monkey. The monkeys are considered gods and are revered by the local community and protected by tradition.
In the 1990s the USAID, Peace Corps, SNV and the then Ghana Tourist Board got involved with ecotourism. This spread across 14 tourism attractions which included Tafi Atome. Since that time Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary has become one of the top destinations in terms of revenue and community management.
So important is the attraction that last year the national celebration of World Tourism Day was hosted by the community.
Today, community-based ecotourism is helping to return the village to its roots with a unique business model that blends environmental conservation with community development and cross-cultural exchange.
As a result of the efforts to protect their forest and monkeys, tourist interest has also increased. The playful monkeys are wild but often come down very close to visitors. Indeed, one of the wonderful things of this sanctuary is how close up you get to the monkeys. In addition the forest has many species of birds and butterflies, which have been preserved.
A plus for Tafi is that it is located in the mid-Volta tourism circuit which includes Afadjato, Liati-Wote, Amedzofe and Wli Waterfall which is less than an hour’s drive away.
The monkey sanctuary lies about two km from the main road but it is easy to reach even if you are travelling by public transport because there are taxis and motorbikes waiting at the junction to give a ride to tourists.
Having arrived in town the night before, I woke up to a village atmosphere of bird songs
and goodwill greetings from everyone. Immediately, I set off towards my monkey business.
At the visitor centre my guide promptly joins me. We were ready to start the tour.
But first I was sent to buy bananas from a local seller. I could see local food being prepared and other folks starting their daily activities. Tafi Atome is a small idyllic village. One can arrange for an evening of entertainment, including drumming, dancing or story telling around a bonfire.
Revenue from tourism has brought electricity to this village. The profits from tourists have been used to build a junior high school, guest house, clinic, street lights and toilet facilities for the community and schools. The villagers I talked to are happy with the visitors to the sanctuary because it creates jobs for them.
This village is definitely worth a visit, beyond the monkeys there is very little hassle in the village and you can take photographs and walk around at ease.
Armed with bananas my tour guide and I entered the forest with the hope to see the monkeys. One way these monkeys differ from the ones at Baobeng Fiema is by the white ring of colouring around their waists. The species here are Monas and Patas. A special feature is that there is a monkey cemetery exclusively for the animals when they die.
It appeared as if we were walking down a path to the middle of nowhere. The sanctuary has great trails to walk along. We walk through the beautifully green rainforest.
Suddenly my guide started making prolonged, kissing noises. Then there they were!
Emerging from the forest and sitting on the trees above us were dozens of monkeys. You have heard that monkeys play by sizes. It is true. And here, they also move in family groups.
It was ‘Commando’ the troop leader who made the first advance. Before I knew what to do with the banana this senior monkey took it away from me and vanished.
I now understood why the tour guide was making me hold half a banana to feed the monkeys. The trick here is not to hold the fruits full length. Be sure to hold on tight for them to eat it, otherwise they'll pull hard and run up the tree to hoard it to themselves.
Another fun is that these guys were not afraid to steal banana bits from other monkeys as well!