We all know the importance of having the right tools to complete a task. It seems the same holds true with bonobos. A new study reports that our great ape cousins will use tools like branches, antlers, and stones to find and extract buried or otherwise hidden food. The bonobos’ complex foraging behaviors observed in the study, led by Itai Roffman, resembled those of human ancestors and could indicate that tool use by great apes dates back to the common ancestor to bonobos, chimps and humans.
Our partners at Lilungu are undertaking a significant task themselves: initiating the process of gaining legal protection for the forests where they live. Lilungu was a significant bonobo research site in the late 1980s and continues to have a thriving bonobo population today. Under recent changes to the Democratic Republic of Congo’s forestry laws, communities may request concessions to create and manage what are known as “Community Forests”. In order to ensure that the communities involved are actively and fairly engaged, the process involves intensive coordination amongst local communities, communication with regional authorities, and delimitation of the forest boundaries.
Over the past several months, the community NGO at Lilungu—Economie de l’Environnement et de la Nature (ENE)—has secured initial agreements to request the forest concessions. This is a great first step but, there is a need for tools to help our partners complete the process. Forest delimitation (in addition to on-going monitoring of the bonobos at Lilungu) requires field equipment and salaries for trackers. The Lilungu site is also in need of a new HF radio for more efficient communications during the establishment of this forest and for continued protection of the area, once formally established.
We are proud of the progress that the Lilungu communities, under the leadership of ENE, have made with limited resources and we hope that you will stand with us and help us provide the tools to help them complete the job!
P.S. If you would like to read more about our work and its impact, author Deni Bechard’s book “Of Bonobos and Men” will be released in paperback format on September 1.
The last few months have been very busy at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve! Just as spring has sprung in the northern hemisphere, new activity and life has emerged at the reserve.
In April, the BCI team visited the reserve and brought some special guests, including:
We look forward to developing partnerships with both institutions, as they will better enable us to protect and understand bonobos while bringing support to our hard-working monitoring teams. Stay tuned for more developments on this front!
While at Kokolopori, the BCI team also kept busy with our local partners: delivering much needed equipment to our tracking teams, planning for an animal husbandry program for reserve residents with our agronomist Marcel Falay, and meeting with regional partners to plan for further development of the Bonobo Peace Forest—our network of community-managed reserves in the bonobo habitat.
Finally, saving the best for last, we are happy to report that our bonobos continue to thrive. A baby bonobo was born into one of our habituated bonobo groups while the team was at the reserve!
We are hopeful as we look forward to the promise of new life, new livelihood programs, and new partnerships at Kokolopori. Thank you for standing with us and helping us to carry this momentum forward!
Bonobos are humankind’s closest relatives, highly advanced, sharing almost 99% of our DNA. Occasionally, they remind us of just how much we have in common…in the most comical of ways.
Recently, a funny thing happened at Lilungu. One day, a local villager was out tending his fields. He took off his shirt and his hat and hung them on a branch to air out as he toiled in the hot sun. A bonobo snuck out of the forest and snatched the man’s clothes! As the man took notice, the bonobo bandit darted into the trees. Swooshing through the canopy, he dropped the man’s hat, but kept the shirt! For the next several days, our tracking teams observed the bonobos, playing “keep-away” with shirt, and wrapping it around their neck or waist like a scarf. We’ve encountered bonobos pilfering pineapples and even cooking pots at Lilungu, but this latest heist is truly exceptional! Needless to say, the shirt was lost to the bonobos, so BCI happily provided the gentleman with a replacement.
Earlier this winter, a BCI expedition team visited Lilungu to reinforce the bonobo monitoring and protection programs at this important site, where we have been working in close partnership with local communities since 2005. It is a critical anchor in the large corridor of community-managed protection we are creating -- the Bonobo Peace Forest. Lilungu is also one of few locations where bonobos are habituated to humans and can be readily observed. This mission brought much-needed support to bonobo tracking teams and will help local Congolese partners to secure official protection for their forest.
We are proud to have forged strong, long-term partnerships with Congolese communities. The simple gesture of giving someone the shirt off our back can go a long way in fostering these relationships and ultimately, the success of our conservation programs. The generosity of our donors is always a crucial element, making all of our progress possible.
Thank you for standing with us!
First off, let us offer a heartfelt thank you to our generous Global Giving supporters. You helped us make October’s Bonus Day one of our most successful ever! Thanks to your donations, our project ranking was elevated to Superstar status, affording us greater opportunities for exposure to corporate donors, features in GlobalGiving’s communications, and opportunities for training.
Support from our donors over the years has helped us lay the groundwork for our Bonobo Peace Forest—an integrated network of grassroots, community-managed reserves in the bonobo habitat. The activities initiated at our pilot site, the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, have “gone viral”—inspiring three neighboring communities (Lingomo, Nkokolombo, and Likongo) to establish their own reserves. We have dubbed the dynamic leaders of these communities “Les Trois Mousquetaires” or “The Three Musketeers.” At Lingomo, Cosmas Bofangi manages conservation programs through the NGO Conservation of the Resources of Lingomo. Roger Afelende, founder of the Association for Conservation of Bonobos in the Source of Lomako, leads community conservation efforts at Nkokolombo. Finally, at Likongo, Jean Gaston Ndombasi—a provincial Environmental Inspector—heads the NGO Debout Likongo pour la Conservation et le Développement.
These biodiversity-rich sites are situated near the territorial capital of Djolu and are particularly vulnerable to logging and the bushmeat trade. For that reason, the hard work that residents have put into protecting them is all the more urgent and commendable. The energy and devotion of Ndombasi and his community has recently paid off: just this September, Likongo received an arreté from the Ministry of the Environment, signed by the Prime Minister, granting 50,000 hectares as a community forest. This is an important step toward securing greater protection for the area.
Earlier this year, Bofangi, Afelende, and Ndombasi traveled to Kokolopori to meet with BCI President Sally Jewell Coxe, our team and other partners in the field. The meetings offered us the chance to talk in-depth about the future and how we can improve the odds for bonobo populations. One of the top priorities will be to map the limits of all three forests, which in actuality form one large forest bloc; this will allow the three communities to coordinate their strategies and pursue other goals such as expanding legal protections like the arreté granted to Likongo. It will also support the creation of more habitat corridors for bonobos to travel safely through different regions. Supporting animal husbandry and agricultural programs in the region will also help to mitigate the illegal hunting of bonobos for bushmeat markets.
We at BCI are so thrilled to work in partnership with our wonderful Three Musketeers and their communities. We are proud of the Peace Forest that our loyal supporters have helped create to protect the bonobos, and yet we are even more gratified to see our strategies inspiring others. As Deni Béchard uncovered in Empty Hands, Open Arms, the true measure of our program’s success lies in its self-replication, as our model spreads to protect more bonobos and more rainforest. With enough support, our successful conservation strategies can truly achieve their promise now and for many years to come.
Since our last update, BCI trackers have been busily monitoring bonobo groups at sites across the Bonobo Peace Forest. At Kokolopori, a pilot research program being conducted by Dr. Deborah Moore is off to a good start. Our tracking teams have been trained to collect information on bonobo behavior, feeding, group interactions, and other ecological elements. Dr. Moore and her team have witnessed multiple encounters between two groups, some of which involved physical fighting among males, in addition to the expected amiable social contact. They have been collecting data on plants and fruits eaten by bonobos. Some of these plants, like “beya” (pictured below), are also favorites of the bonobos’ human neighbors.
Thanks in part to our generous Global Giving donors, two of our teams at Kokolopori were outfitted with new equipment. Our trackers were provided with vital supplies, including: ponchos, stopwatches, field notebooks, headlamps, backpacks, batteries, and solar battery chargers. The remote location and wet conditions of the bonobo habitat, deep in the Congo rainforest, certainly puts this equipment to the test! BCI staff saw this firsthand, as the supplies were delivered just as the rainy season was starting.
Meanwhile at Kololopori’s sister sites (Lingomo, Nkokolombo, and Likongo), local conservationists have been observing their own bonobo groups. These monitoring programs are also in need of field equipment and support. It is imperative that we continue to support to these sites, and encourage the motivated and enthusiastic communities to continue and expand their conservation programs.
By gaining a better understanding of bonobo ecology, and through regular monitoring of bonobos, we are taking strides towards ensuring the long-term survival of our great ape cousins. Thank you so much for your kind support!
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