Save Endangered Bonobos in the Congo Rainforest

 
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Bonobos at Kokolopori, April 2015
Bonobos at Kokolopori, April 2015

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:

  • a scientist from a prominent research institution, who is interested in establishing a long-term bonobo research program at Kokolopori, and
  • representatives from Wildlife Protection Solutions, an organization which integrates technology systems with anti-poaching and habitat protection programs

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!

Marcel Falay, agronomist for BCI
Marcel Falay, agronomist for BCI
BCI logistics manager on the way to Lilungu
BCI logistics manager on the way to Lilungu

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!

Our tracking team at Lilungu
Our tracking team at Lilungu
Bofangi, Ndombasi and Afelende at Kokolopori
Bofangi, Ndombasi and Afelende at Kokolopori

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.

Thank you for standing with us!

Thank you for your support!
Thank you for your support!
Chef d
Chef d'equipe, Mbangi Lofoso, using new equipment

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!

Tracker, Dadi Bahandjoa, displaying "beya" leaf
Tracker, Dadi Bahandjoa, displaying "beya" leaf
Bonobos grooming at Kokolopori
Bonobos grooming at Kokolopori
Our friend, Alden
Our friend, Alden

Every day, BCI trackers and eco-guards are out in the Congo rainforest, tirelessly defending bonobos and their vital habitat. Because of the remote location of the bonobo range, it can be challenging for these rainforest guardians to communicate with BCI headquarters in Kinshasa and Washington, DC. Thanks to our generous supporters, the BCI team has just installed satellite internet (VSAT) in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve! We are so excited to bring even more stories and photos from the field to bonobo fans across the world.

BCI President Sally Jewell Coxe is currently in the field, accompanied by primatologist Dr. Deborah Moore. In cooperation with BCI, Max Planck Institute, and local partner Vie Sauvage, Dr. Moore is conducting a study of two habituated bonobo groups in the reserve, gaining invaluable data and insights that will inform further research. Collaborating with local trackers who have been monitoring the bonobos for several years, Deb is paving the way for future scientific work by initiating a long-term research program at Kokolopori. Meanwhile, Sally has been hard at work advancing wildlife protection programs in the reserve and—her favorite activity—observing bonobos. She has sent some incredible pictures via the new VSAT.

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, it seems only fitting to share a few stories about mothers in the Kokolopori reserve. We are delighted to announce that one of the bonobos has given birth to a healthy little baby! Bonobos only reproduce about once every five years, a low birth rate that contributes to their endangered status, so every bonobo baby is a cause for celebration. Bonobos aren’t the only babies in Kokolopori—there are some very special children in the villages, too! A local family honored BCI board member Alden Almquist by naming their son after him. Alden’s ndoyi (namesake) is a bright and cheerful boy, and he greatly enjoyed having his picture taken. He will be joined by a new BCI ndoyi—baby Sally, born just last month. BCI wishes a happy Mother’s Day to all Congo rainforest mothers, human and bonobo alike!

Please help BCI help all these families by contributing today. To keep the VSAT and computer center up and running, BCI needs funds to build a reliable solar energy system. Greater communication between trackers and the global community means greater protection for bonobos and the Congo rainforest. Thank you so much for your kind support!

Installing VSAT Internet
Installing VSAT Internet
Female bonobo, resting just before giving birth
Female bonobo, resting just before giving birth
Our dedicated trackers
Our dedicated trackers

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Project Leader

Sally Coxe

Washington, DC United States

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