Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative
Among the conservation priorities listed in the Action Plan for Pan paniscus and African Primates: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan are (a) regional surveys to determine the current range and population status of the species, (b) habitat protection, and (c) conservation education and training. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) has built a program of activities in DRC called the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI). The program’s objectives are:
Footprints are one sign that indicate the presence of bonobos.
ZSM’s initial reconnaissance survey in 1997 was the first scientific mission to the Salonga in over a decade, and not only verified the existence of bonobos within the park, but also confirmed the feasibility of continuing bonobo monitoring. Based on the discovery of a sizable bonobo population during this evaluation mission, the ZSM began to raise funds and organize a full-scale survey to begin in September 1998. Shortly after the onset of the project, civil war broke out in August 1998, and all conservation activities within the park were suspended until late 2000, when periodic visits to the park resumed in order to deliver emergency supplies to the park staff and gather data on the status of wildlife populations – in particular, the bonobo. The BCBI has since been modified to respond to war crisis and to provide urgent triage support as needed. Since the war’s end, the ZSM has continued to conduct ecological research within the park’s boundaries and to gather data on the war’s effect. Since 2000, ZSM has identified 11 areas of bonobo significance within the park, and collected important data on the distribution of the bonobo, the characteristics of forest habitat and the presence and impact of illegal poaching.
The war has caused a major economic collapse in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the displacement of millions of Congolese. As a result the national parks and protected areas harboring the DRC’s unique flora and fauna were looted, infiltrated by poachers and refugees, and, in some cases, overtaken by rebel governments. An unknown level of poaching has all but decimated rare gorilla populations in the Kahuzi Biega National Park in eastern DRC, but we have very little information on the effects of war on the status of the bonobo. We do, however, have indirect evidence of increased poaching – since an unprecedented number of bonobo orphans have turned up in urban centers as a by-product of the bushmeat and pet trade.
Current BCBI Activities
Bonobo and Large Mammal Survey: BCBI's centerpiece is to conduct regional surveys within the bonobo's range to determine the status of the wild population. The program includes training for Congolese field researchers in survey methodology and biodiversity monitoring.
Support for Salonga National Park: Current habitat protection efforts focus on support for the Salonga National Park to ensure the survival of bonobo populations within this federally protected site. ZSM delivers relief aid (salaries, equipment, medicine, training) to park guards, enabling them to curtail wildlife poaching.
Conservation Education: ZSM and a Congolese education group published educational booklets about the bonobo’s natural history and conservation status. ZSM also has created a brochure about tropical-forest conservation for distribution in the capital city of Kinshasa, and to communities in the bonobo's range.
Congo Headquarters: Visit our ZSM headquarters and staff in Kinshasa.
ZSM has established a restricted fund for bonobo conservation programs. One hundred percent of all donations goes toward BCBI projects with no administrative overhead, except for salaries paid to Congolese researchers. Donations also may be restricted to a specific program. ZSM gratefully acknowledges all supporters of activities in the DRC.