New Research Surveys Wild Bonobos of Kokolopori

Bonobos are our closest relatives, but relatively little consistent research has been done on them in the wild. They live only in an isolated area of the Congo, where the history of conflict and instability has thwarted scientific endeavors. “Bonobos are the last great ape to be discovered, and remain the least studied, largely due to their range which is limited to the DRC,” says BCI research associate Dr. Deborah Moore. Dr. Moore wants to change that by establishing a permanent research institution in partnership with the Max Planck Institute. She says that the new research site will “contribute greatly to our knowledge of this species and will shed more light on different aspects of their behaviour and social structure.”

Deb Moore is no stranger to field work. She studied chimpanzees in Tanzania for her PhD thesis. Photo Credit: Deborah Moore
Deb Moore is no stranger to field work. She studied
chimpanzees in Tanzania for her PhD thesis.
Photo Credit: Deborah Moore

Dr. Moore’s pilot program begins this March at Kokolopori, where about 1800 wild bonobos live. Her primary intent is to study the bonobos’ behavior and ecological relationships. Since little research has been done in the wild, this study will make a significant contribution—and will lay the foundation for long-term, in-depth studies. In addition, her research project will support and strengthen bonobo monitoring efforts that are crucial to ongoing conservation work.

The pilot program will focus on two bonobo communities at Kokolopori that are already habituated to human observation. Researchers will study their group composition and track individual bonobos, choosing one individual to rigorously observe each day. In the dense jungle, focusing on just one bonobo at a time will allow the researchers to assemble in-depth and specific information regarding a broad range of behaviors. Over the length of the study, that detailed information will build a complex picture of the behavior of wild bonobos.

Deb Moore in her forest lab during her PhD research. Photo Credit: Deborah Moore
Deb Moore collecting and preparing
field samples during her PhD research.
Photo Credit: Deborah Moore

In addition to these immediate objectives, Dr. Moore intends to establish standardized data collection practices for future fieldwork at the site, making the information more reliable and easily analyzed. Local collaborators from Vie Sauvage and other Peace Forest partners will learn the same research techniques, so that people from the communities in bonobo territory will be invested in growing and developing the program. Their local knowledge and presence will ensure that research continues without long stretches of interruption. By training and employing local researchers, the program will enhance good relations between the human and bonobo communities who share the forest.

Ultimately, Dr. Moore’s research will strengthen conservation efforts at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, the Sankuru Nature Reserve, and other Bonobo Peace Forest sites. Effectively protecting bonobos depends on understanding how humans and bonobos can share resources and habitat. The more information we have about how bonobos live, the better we can help them to thrive.