Save Endangered Bonobos in the Congo Rainforest

by Bonobo Conservation Initiative
Vetted
Survey training
Survey training

Bonobo conservation efforts have often been hampered by lack of information. To better understand bonobos and their habitat, BCI and partners conducted an extensive survey of the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, thanks to support from the USFW Great Ape Conservation Fund. The results are enlightening, and they point the way to more effective and efficient protection strategies.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute provided training in standard scientific methodologies to local survey teams.  The teams then conducted a thorough census of the Kokolopori Reserve using these techniques. Smaller scale surveys have taken place previously, and this most recent survey—the first to cover the entire reserve—has yielded a wealth of new information. Of all of the discoveries, perhaps the most exciting is the evidence of a thriving bonobo presence in the reserve. Previous estimates had put the population at around 1000 bonobos, and this new research raises that estimate to 1800, making the Kokolopori Reserve home to one of the largest bonobo populations discovered to date. In addition to bonobo sightings, monitoring teams reported sightings of the rare Salongo monkey (Cercopithecus dryas), a critically endangered species never studied outside of Kokolopori.

As much as the survey highlighted the species that live in Kokolopori, it also revealed the threats to their survival. Direct encounters with hunters took place on the periphery of the reserve to the south and east. River access points were hotbeds of poacher activity, as bushmeat is most readily transported on the water. These findings, though troubling, point the way to future conservation strategies. More eco-guards are needed in these areas to ensure the continued wellbeing of all of the animals living within this vital region of rainforest.

BCI, local partner Vie Sauvage, and the newly trained field teams continue to monitor the reserve and gain invaluable information about the Kokolopori bonobos, other key species, and overall biodiversity. The scientific training provided by the Max Planck Institute will continue to bolster the local Congolese communities' ability to manage and protect the forests that they share with bonobos. 

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!

In the field
In the field
The Critically Endangered Salongo monkey
The Critically Endangered Salongo monkey
A Kokolopori bonobo
A Kokolopori bonobo
Supplies on their trip from Kinshasa to Kokolopori
Supplies on their trip from Kinshasa to Kokolopori

Eco-guards and trackers are the first line of defense for bonobos in the Congolese rainforest. The remote communities where these essential protectors and their families live are far from any modern medical facility. They have little to no access to any form of healthcare or even basic medicines. To address this issue BCI, along with local partner Vie Sauvage, has developed the pilot “Bonobo Clinic” program to provide essential medical care to people who within the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve.

Recently BCI, in collaboration with its partners and other donors, provided much needed medical supplies to the clinic.  For anyone living in a more developed area of the world, it can be hard to imagine the challenges of transporting cargo to a remote area of the rainforest. Several steps are involved, and the efforts of many people and organizations are required to get the cargo where it needs to go.

Drawing upon the cooperative nature of the bonobo, BCI worked with a corporate sponsor, regional airlines and local partners to acquire and transport medical supplies from the capital of Kinshasa to the village of Yalokole, site of the Bonobo Clinic. A grant from the Orange Foundation  enabled BCI to purchase the provisions in Kinshasa. CAA Airlines (Compagnie African d’Aviation) generously donated the shipping to Mbandaka, the site of BCI’s provincial office. From there, Aviation Sans Frontières (ASF) transported the supplies by bush plane to Djolu, at discounted rate. In Djolu, members of BCI’s partner organization Vie Sauvage recovered the shipment from the bush plane and loaded it into our well-traveled Land Cruiser. Then, they took the daylong journey to the health clinic in Yalokole, where the shipment–which included antibiotics, antimalarial and antiparasitic drugs, syringes, bandages, and mosquito nets–was gratefully received!

By following the example of bonobos, we were able to work together to ensure the health of the members of our team who are at the front lines in protecting these peaceful apes. 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!

Kokolopori resident visiting the Bonobo Clinic
Kokolopori resident visiting the Bonobo Clinic
Bonobo Profile
Bonobo Profile

Thank you so much for supporting our bonobo conservation efforts through GlobalGiving. With your help, we are changing lives—human and bonobo alike—in the Congo rainforest. Thanks to caring people like you, bright Congolese students have educational opportunities, Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve residents receive lifesaving medical care, and trackers and eco-guards can feed their families--earning their income not from hunting bonobos, but from protecting them. Right now, a baby bonobo is being born in Kokolopori, or Sankuru, or Lilungu, and she has a brighter future because you took the time to reach out and lend a hand.

Now you can make your gift go 30% further. On Wednesday, March 13, starting at 9AM EDT, GlobalGiving will match donations at 30% up to $1,000 per donor per project! There is $50,000 available in matching funds and matching will last until funds run out or 11:59 pm EDT.

Think about what 30% can do. If you give $100, you can pay an eco-guard’s salary for two months. The extra $30 can provide essential equipment, like binoculars and headlamps. Every dollar helps, and on March 13, it helps 30% more.

 You make our work possible. On behalf of the bonobos, thank you.

Young bonobo relaxing
Young bonobo relaxing
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
 

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Organization Information

Bonobo Conservation Initiative

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

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