Save Endangered Bonobos in the Congo Rainforest

 
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Mme. Rebecca with Boma
Mme. Rebecca with Boma

Thank you for supporting us in our mission to protect bonobos in their natural habitat. In previous updates, you’ve learned how your generosity has allowed us to impact the lives of bonobos on a large scale. Today, we’d like to bring you the story of one special bonobo and how the combined efforts of organizations, individuals, and donors like you helped save her life.

Orphan bonobos are all too common, a devastating side effect of the bushmeat trade. These young bonobos, too small to be sold as meat, are often illegally sold as pets. Ian Redmond, OBE, a wildlife consultant for Born Free Foundation, recently traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate illegal trade in great apes and other endangered species. BCI’s Evelyne Samu joined him on his journey to the Bas Congo region to visit the port at Boma. It was here that they learned of an 18-month-old orphan bonobo.

Boma’s port is a flurry of activity, filled with ships carrying all manner of wares. The sailors typically stay on their ships, relying on local men (known as “washmen”) who paddle canoes between the ships and shore to ferry goods and information. When interviewed by Ian and Evelyne, the washmen reported that they had seen a large variety of items, including illegal goods like ivory. Ian and Evelyne asked if they had seen any great apes—“mokomboso.” This Lingala word literally translates to “like human.” At this point, Ian and Evelyne were told that a local woman named Mme. Rebecca was keeping a “gorilla” as a pet for her children. Upon further investigation, they learned that the family was willing to sell them the ape for $450.

Ian and Evelyne visited the family under the guise of being interested in purchasing the ape. Rebecca introduced them to Mireille, the “chimpanzee” she had gotten as a playmate for her young daughters. Ian and Evelyne quickly realized that Mireille was neither a gorilla nor a chimpanzee but, in fact, a young bonobo. This orphan bonobo originally came from Kikwit in the Bandundu province. The bushmeat trade is rampant in that area, and her mother was likely killed and sold for meat.  For every orphan bonobo, there is at least one—and sadly, usually more—bonobos killed.  The illegal sale of apes as pets is also common practice. When asked if her family would be sad to lose Mireille, Rebecca told Ian and Evelyne that it would be no problem to get another ape. Her report is a sad illustration of the fact that, as Ian says, there is “clearly both a supply and a demand for baby apes, and that the indications are that almost anywhere an investigator starts to dig, he or she will find them for sale.” However, Rebecca told Evelyne that she herself did not purchase Mireille; she took Mireille from relatives in Kikwit a few weeks ago. Mireille had seemed ill and sad, and Rebecca wanted her to have a better home.

After this visit, there was discussion about how to proceed.  It would seem simplest to buy Mireille to get her to Lola ya Bonobo, the orphanage in Kinshasa, immediately. However, this course of action would be illegal and only stimulate the pet trade they were trying to stop. The only solution in these situations is to contact authorities for proper legal confiscation. The process can be long and complicated, involving legal fees, veterinary fees, and a great deal of both paperwork and logistics. Everyone worked together to make the rescue happen quickly. Born Free secured initial funds, BCI provided transportation and logistical support, and Lola ya Bonobo prepared a new home for the baby bonobo. The next day, officers from the Ministry of the Environment visited Rebecca and her family and explained the situation.

Bonobos are deeply sensitive and highly social creatures. In order to thrive, they need a very specific environment and the company of other bonobos. For these reasons, among many others, even loving human homes are not the best place for bonobos. To allay any concern that the family had over the fate of their “third daughter,” Ian and Evelyne took the whole family to visit Lola ya Bonobo so they could see the sanctuary for themselves. Through their interactions with Ian and Evelyne, Rebecca and her family learned more about bonobos and why it is illegal to buy or sell them. Ian remarked that the family will likely now “be allies who will help us close down the Matadi trade” after this eye-opening experience.

Mireille is now living safely in the sanctuary, where she is known as “Boma” in honor of the town where she was rescued. Through the collaboration of many people and organizations, Boma is getting a second chance at a happy life.  This rescue is cause for celebration, but, sadly, it is the exception rather than the rule. For every rescued bonobo, there are countless others whose stories end quite differently.

Eco-guards and trackers are the first line of defense for bonobos like Boma. With proper training and equipment, these brave individuals can help protect against poaching and keep the forest safe for bonobos. We can do more than rescue orphans--let’s work together to prevent the tragedies that create orphans. Thank you for your participation in this vital cause.

Ian with Boma
Ian with Boma
At the sanctuary
At the sanctuary
The children say farewell
The children say farewell
Visionquest film crew in Kokolopori
Visionquest film crew in Kokolopori

Thanks to dedicated supporters like you, BCI has made great strides in 2012 toward our goal of protecting bonobos and the Congo rainforest. As a Global Giving donor, you may already know some of the year’s highlights, including the official accreditation of Djolu Technical College and the addition of Likongo as a Bonobo Peace Forest site. But your generosity has enabled us to do so much more! Here is a small sample of the past year’s achievements and the exciting opportunities ahead in 2013:

The Bonobo Peace Forest is going strong. BCI is happy to announce that, for the first time ever in the DRC, land originally set aside for logging is now being re-designated for conservation.  After a decade of preparation, BCI, Conservation International, local partners and the DRC government have launched the first conservation concession project in the Congo—and in all of central Africa. In partnership with Conservation International, we are receiving support from the Congo Basin Forest Fund to implement the Bonobo Conservation Concession.  More than 2330 square miles of rainforest comprising prime bonobo habitat will be designated for protection, thanks to this innovative strategy.

REDD+ is coming to Sankuru. With support from the UK and Norway through the Congo Basin Forest Fund, we are preparing the Sankuru Nature Reserve for participation in the UN’s REDD+ program, an initiative designed to create financial value for carbon stored in forests.  The Sankuru Community Carbon Initiative will bring many benefits to local communities over the next 25 years, empowering them to protect their forest and wildlife, while providing vital livelihood opportunities and social services.  

We’re helping to spread the word about bonobos. The first-ever 3D movie about great apes, The Last of the Great Apes, was filmed in part at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve.  This ground-breaking film will be released to theatres next year.  We also hosted legendary filmmaker Alan Root and began laying the groundwork for future ecotourism possibilities. Last but not least, award-winning author Deni Béchard features BCI in his new book Empty Hands, Opens Arms, forthcoming from Milkweed Press next year.

Our friends, supporters, and partners made these accomplishments—and more—possible. We couldn’t do it without you.

Make your funds go even further—become a recurring donor! From December 1 through December 31, Global Giving will match 100% of your initial recurring donation, up to $100 per donor. If you’ve always been a one-time donor, or this is your first donation to BCI, please take advantage of this great promotion.  Your caring, tax-deductible donation will fund our vital on-the-ground programs month after month in 2013. Bonobos need you!  

We wish you a happy holiday season.   Let’s make the New Year a great one for bonobos!

Conservation Concessions meeting in Mbandaka
Conservation Concessions meeting in Mbandaka
Deni Bechard visits Djolu
Deni Bechard visits Djolu
A bonobo relaxing in the Bonobo Peace Forest
A bonobo relaxing in the Bonobo Peace Forest
BCI and Likongo villagers celebrate partnership
BCI and Likongo villagers celebrate partnership
Co-founder Albert Lokasola at Djolu
Co-founder Albert Lokasola at Djolu

We are thrilled to announce the official accreditation of the Djolu Technical College for Conservation and Rural Development! The decree was issued by the DRC Ministry of Higher Education in recognition of the quality of education provided by the college.

Djolu Technical College is a powerful example of the close relationship that exists between bonobos and their human neighbors. At BCI, our mission is to save bonobos and their natural habitat. This important work cannot be done without the commitment and leadership of those who care most about the Congo rainforest: the Congolese people who live there, too. In Kokolopori, our pilot community-based reserve, residents became very inspired by the bonobos and invested in the fight to save them from extinction.  In order to achieve their goals, residents needed an opportunity to receive a comprehensive education in conservation and related fields.  

Established by BCI and local partner Vie Sauvage, together with the people of the Djolu territory, the college trains the next generation of Congolese conservation leaders.  The only institution of higher learning within a 40,000 square mile region, Djolu Technical College offers courses in natural resource management, sustainable agriculture, and micro-enterprise development.

Beyond the specific courses, Djolu Technical College offers something even greater: a brighter future for the Congo. “Our students are thirsty not only for technical knowledge and management skills, but also for the chance to rebuild hope for the future of their villages, and protect the biodiversity of their rainforest.”  –Albert Lokasola, president of Vie Sauvage and co-founder of Djolu Technical College

Graduates of Djolu Technical College are already making a positive and meaningful impact. Beatrice Mpako, the first female graduate (in 2007), is now the Assistant  Administrator for the entire Boende district, which is comprised of Djolu and other territories. Others have gone on to work for BCI, other NGOs and enterprises—or have started their own businesses.  We are proud of our students and their accomplishments, and we are proud of the Djolu Technical College community for reaching their accreditation goal.

Accreditation is a vital milestone, however the work at Djolu has only just begun. Currently, the passion and dedication to learning at Djolu far outstrip the infrastructure of the school.  The community has donated land to expand classroom space and students are pressing bricks themselves as part of a work-study program.  Support is needed to update the library, as well as computer and internet facilities.  In addition, we are actively seeking partnership with a sister college in the USA or Europe and support to establish an endowment fund for the college. 

Please donate today to educate the conservation leaders of tomorrow.

Sending congratulations to the Djolu community, and thanks for your continued support!

Djolu students celebrating
Djolu students celebrating
Students learning to use computers
Students learning to use computers
A working group on sustainable development
A working group on sustainable development
Lilungu bonobo
Lilungu bonobo

Since 2005, BCI and Congolese partner Centre de Recherche en Ecologie et Forestrie (CREF) have been hard at work in Lilungu. Lilungu is a key part of the Bonobo Peace Forest, linking the large nature reserves of Kokolopori to the north and Sankuru to the south. A recent grant from the Great Ape Conservation Fund enabled us to conduct surveys, train and equip trackers and monitoring teams, and improve basic infrastructure. The project achieved significant results, including:

  • Identification of high priority conservation areas
  • Confirmation that threats to bonobos in the area are consistent or increasing
  • Creation of a local association for an official nature reserve in Lilungu
  • Rejection of diamond miners by Lilungu residents in favor of conservation, a powerful testament to our work

We are also forging a new partnership with Proyecto Gran Simio of Spain (GAP/PGS-España), an organization dedicated to great ape protection. Because Lilungu was initiated as a study site by Spanish scientists (Jordi Sabater Pi and Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona), we are very happy to be establishing connections with these wonderful collaborators in Spain. In addition to providing project funding, they will be sponsoring the publication of a new children’s book Life Lessons with Kemba, written and illustrated by Celeste Maia, acclaimed artist and GAP/PGS- España Director of International Relations. This delightful tale follows the adventures of a boy and a bonobo who grow up together, and it highlights the urgent need to protect bonobos and their habitat. Proceeds from the book will go toward bonobo conservation efforts.

Raising awareness is a critical part of protecting bonobos in Lilungu and throughout their habitat. We are excited to announce that Voice of America has just produced a special video and radio program about bonobos and their plight. The story features BCI president Sally Coxe and filmmaker Irene Magafan, as well as bonobos in our Kokolopori Reserve and in captivity. Please take a look at the story below!

As always, none of our work would be possible without your support. Thank you for all that you do, and please remember to spread the word!

Lilungu conservation center
Lilungu conservation center
BCI, CREF, and Lilungu trackers
BCI, CREF, and Lilungu trackers

Links:

Trackers at work
Trackers at work

BCI President Sally Coxe and Executive Director Michael Hurley are currently spending several weeks in the field in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  As they travel from site to site, they are inspired daily by the dedication of the trackers and eco-guards who protect the bonobos, as well as the commitment of contributors who make it all possible. Here are some highlights of their itinerary:

Likongo--Sally and Michael recently visited Likongo, a site created by local Congolese residents who were inspired by our Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve.  Jean Gaston Ndombasi, leader of local NGO Debut Likongo, has been instrumental in organizing eco-guard and tracker efforts in Likongo.  Thanks to his leadership, eighteen Likongo residents are monitoring three bonobo groups. We are very grateful to them, not only because of their excellent work, but also because they have been working for the past two years on a completely volunteer basis.

Mbandaka –BCI is delighted to announce the expansion of conservation efforts in the Bonobo Peace Forest. Sally and Michael will co-lead a meeting with provincial authorities to kick off the new Bonobo Conservation Concession project in cooperation with Conservation International. The project is funded by the Congo Basin Forest Fund / African Development Bank and is the first pilot conservation concession in the DRC, converting unexploited logging concessions to conservation.

Sankuru--At the end of March, BCI will host a historic meeting of more than 100 customary chiefs and notables representing communities involved with our project. BCI is deeply committed to fostering communication and community involvement in conservation, and we believe that this meeting will be a great step forward in our mission to save endangered bonobos.

Bonobos still stand at the brink of extinction, but—by working together—we are making real progress in the fight for their survival. We need your continued support to train and equip the people who are the bonobos’ first line of defense-- the brave and dedicated eco-guards in Likongo, Sankuru, the conservation concessions, and throughout the bonobo range.

Please check our next report for amazing photos from Sally and Michael’s travels!

The beautiful forests of Mbandaka
The beautiful forests of Mbandaka
Bonobos at play in Sankuru
Bonobos at play in Sankuru

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Project Leader

Sally Coxe

Washington, DC United States

Where is this project located?