Save Endangered Bonobos in the Congo Rainforest

by Bonobo Conservation Initiative

First of all, we would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to you for making our 2016 Year-End Campaign a resounding success. With the help of our generous supporters, our project finished in the top 5% of over 500 participating projects…raising over $10,000! Because of our placement, we have earned the opportunity to be featured on the home page in 2017, exposing our work to even more potential donors. Stay tuned to find out when we’ll be featured!

Meanwhile at Lilungu, we are continuing the process of securing the protection of over 1.3 million acres of rainforest habitat. As our dedicated team of trackers monitors bonobos in five forest blocks, our Congolese logistics staff and local partners are gearing up to take the next steps in establishing this prime area of bonobo habitat as a community forest. To date, we have secured accords with local communities and are now focusing on pursuing approvals at the provincial level. We are seeking further support to conduct expanded biological surveys, zoning and demarcation activities that are required to establish a protected area. At the same time, we are working with our local partners to advance community livelihood and education programs to benefit the people and sustain the entire ecosystem.

The urgency of protecting forests like those of Lilungu was underscored in a recent article in the journal Science Advances by Alejandro Estrada (Institute of Biology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico) and co-authors. A survey of scientific data of non-human primates and the threats facing them showed that approximately 60% of primate species are headed for extinction. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is considered a high priority area for primate conservation, as it is one of four countries that together harbor two thirds of the world’s primate species. These species—including bonobos—continue to be under immediate threat from habitat destruction, hunting, human encroachment, and climate change. The authors conclude that the most effective path to preserving primate biodiversity is through the development of conservation programs that are based on mutually beneficial partnerships between local communities and government—exactly the kind of cooperative conservation that BCI and partners have championed for the last two decades.

Continued support for our tracking teams—from donors like you—has been instrumental in not only protecting bonobos, but in maintaining the enthusiasm for the communities of Lilungu to work with us to protect their forests—and all of the species within. As always, thank you for standing with us…and please help BCI and our partners by spreading the word about our work.

Part of our Lilungu team
Part of our Lilungu team


Our last reports have been updating you on our research program and the two bonobo groups being studied at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve. But, did you know that we are actually monitoring a total of four bonobo groups?  The teams monitoring the other groups (Bekako and Nsondo) have been benefitting from the presence of the researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI), even though they aren't directly involved in the studies so far. The monitoring team leaders have benefitted from working with MPI and some trackers have received updated training in the use of GPS, to improve the data that they are collecting on these groups. This is of particular importance to the Bekako team, as this group has been observed interacting with the research groups (Ekalakala and Nkokoalongo). That makes three groups coming together…another exciting development and great opportunity for understanding bonobo behavior!

By generously sharing their time with our other tracking teams, the MPI researchers are helping to enhance the ability of our partners to monitor and protect the bonobo communities in their forests. And, through the generosity of donors like you, we have been able to sustain and equip these teams.

Speaking of sharing and generosity, as we enter year end fundraising season, GlobalGiving has partnered with an anonymous donor to provide some exciting campaigns, including:

  • On #GivingTuesday (November 29th), all processing fees will be covered by this donor.
  • Any new recurring donations made between #GivingTuesday and December 31st, will be matched at 100% on the fourth month.

These campaigns will help your donation have even more of an impact! As always, thank you for standing with us…and please help us share the love by spreading the word about our work.

Female bonobos from the Ekalakala group
Female bonobos from the Ekalakala group

Over the last few months, our research team at Kokolopori has been busy studying two habituated bonobo groups. Conducted under the supervision of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the project aims to document group composition, feeding ecology and behavior of the Nkokoalong and Ekalakala bonobos.

Led by Dr. Martin Surbeck, the team, which includes seven of the best trackers at Kokolopori, has been working hard to identify the bonobos in the two groups, assigning each one a name. They are also being creative with their naming conventions: musician names for members of the Nkokoalongo group and colors for Ekalakala. Among the notables are: Bowie, Marley, Papa Wemba, and Madonna!

The project is already producing some intriguing glimpses into the lives of wild bonobos, while confirming behaviors observed by other researchers. The groups have been moving through the forest and nesting near each other for the last couple of weeks, providing ample opportunity for our researchers to observe how two groups interact. Just last week, the team noted that a female from each group has switched to the opposite group.

Migration between groups is common once female bonobos reach adolescence. A recently published long-term study of bonobos at neighboring Wamba may provide insight into how female bonobo behavior facilitates this phenomenon. Nahoko Tokuyama and Takeshi Furuichi of Kyoto University found that older female bonobos will help younger, unrelated females who are being aggressively targeted by males. This protective behavior presumably allows new, younger females to join a group without the threat of being bullied by the male members. They hypothesize that this behavior also helps to form bonobos’ matriarchal social structure.

Our research program is already giving us insight into bonobo group dynamics and female alliances. We are excited about its potential to contribute to the broader scientific and conservation communities. Your support makes this work, and more, possible. As always, thank you for standing with us!

Members of our research team
Members of our research team


Martin Surbeck and Leonard Nkanga Lolima
Martin Surbeck and Leonard Nkanga Lolima

BCI President Sally Jewell Coxe has just returned from a trip to Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve. The main objective of this trip was to establish a new research project in partnership with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Under the guidance of Dr. Martin Surbeck—a primatologist who has previously studied bonobos at Lui Kotale near Salonga National Park—the project aims to gain greater insight into how individual bonobos and their groups interact.

In early March, Sally and Martin, along with the rest of our team made a two week journey up the Maringa River, from BCI’s regional office in Mbandaka to Kokolopori. Along the way, they were treated by the sight of hippos in the river! Once the team was settled in Yetee, headquarters for our conservation programs at the reserve, they began process of setting up a forest research camp and orienting local tracking teams (led by longtime supervisor Leonard Nkanga Lolima) for the project.

The Yetee forest is home to two habituated bonobo groups (Ekalakala and Nkokoalongo), offering a rare opportunity to observe bonobo groups interacting in the wild. The team was fortunate to witness the two groups meeting and interacting while the camp was being constructed. This bodes well for the kinds of data and insights that the Max Planck research team will be able to collect.

This project would not be possible without the years of investment in the communities of Kokolopori and the research projects that have come before. Through the generosity of our donors, we have been able to train, equip, and employ local trackers to monitor bonobos in their forests. This foundation of local knowledge has been instrumental in attracting the interest of researchers, like Dr. Deborah Moore, who conducted a pilot study at the reserve two years ago.

Martin is enthusiastic about working with local people, and is keenly aware of the importance of local involvement in conservation within communities. He plans to collaborate with Congolese students in his research, to train a new generation of conservation advocates and ensure that the knowledge gained from his research benefits the Congolese people.

Ultimately, the more we can learn about bonobos, the more we can learn about how to protect them. We continue to look forward to the promise of this project and its benefits for both bonobos and our community partners. As always, thank you for standing with us!

P.S. If you were wondering about the orphaned bonobo that was rescued over Christmas…Sally also paid a visit to him at the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary. Bikoro is thriving and has become quite a playful bonobo! He is in the capable hands of the “mamans,” who care for infants until they are ready to be integrated with the other bonobos at the sanctuary.

Bonobo relaxing at Kokolopori, spring 2016
Bonobo relaxing at Kokolopori, spring 2016
Bikoro with his "maman" and new friends
Bikoro with his "maman" and new friends
Bikoro in Mbandaka with a new friend, Sally
Bikoro in Mbandaka with a new friend, Sally

While most of us were winding down 2015 and spending time with friends and family, our team in the Congo was reminded that poaching doesn’t take time off. Our longtime colleague, Dr. Mwanza Ndunda (also known as Mpaka Bonobo, or "Grandpa Bonobo"), received a tip that a man was selling a baby bonobo in Bikoro, near our Lac Tumba site. Richard Eonga, bureau chief of BCI's Mbandaka office, and Dr. Norbert Mbangi, a Congolese primatologist who has worked on the frontlines for two decades, raced to Bikoro to rescue the baby. They encountered several difficulties on the path, including unpassable roads and floods, but they pressed on and confiscated the bonobo with help from the local police force. Our dedicated employees gave up much of the Christmas holiday with their families in order to stay in the office and care for our new friend.

Malnourished, stressed, and injured, the orphan quickly bonded with our staff. He was named Bikoro after the town where he was rescued, and affectionately nicknamed Noël in honor of the holiday. Bikoro took a particular liking to our dedicated team member Dieudonne Bahati Mwanza. Over the next week, Bikoro recuperated at our office while arrangements were made to transport him to the safety of the Lola Ya Bonobo orphanage near Kinshasa. He ate well and gained strength in his new surroundings—and even began climbing trees in the yard.

On New Year’s Eve, Bikoro was flown from Mbandaka to Kinshasa via Air Kasai. BCI’s Kinshasa team met him and he was transferred to the care of our friends at the sanctuary. A veterinarian assessed the orphan, estimating that he is approximately 4 months old and in otherwise good health. As a precaution, he has been placed in temporary quarantine, in order to assure the health of the other orphans at Lola. Soon, our new friend will have a chance at a happy and safe life with new bonobo companions at the sanctuary.

This story reminds us that, more than anything, we need to put an end to the hunting and selling of bonobos. For every orphan rescued, others have been killed, including the baby's mother. It is urgent that we provide greater support for our field teams near Lac Tumba, and throughout the Bonobo Peace Forest. This bonobo was rescued thanks to a tip from a community member and thanks to our network on the ground. It goes to show how crucial our work is, and how it requires participation and support from so many people. It takes a village—and then some!

As always, thank you for your support. Let’s make 2016 the best year ever for bonobos!

Bikoro and some much-needed nourishment
Bikoro and some much-needed nourishment
BCI's Dieudonne Bahati Mwanza with Bikoro
Strong enough to climb a tree
Strong enough to climb a tree

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Organization Information

Bonobo Conservation Initiative

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sally Coxe
Washington, DC United States

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