In September, The Bonobo Project hosted a pioneering event: The Bonobo Communications Workshop. Spearheaded by Bonobo Project founder Ashley Stone and moderated by Dr. Annette Lanjouw of the Arcus Foundation, the workshop aimed to raise awareness of bonobos in the US and to foster cooperation and communication among organizations and individuals dedicated to bonobos.The workshop attracted participants from a variety of disciplines, such as conservation, education, research, and media.
One of the main threats facing bonobos is that they remain largely unknown to the general public. In his presentation, Dr. Brian Hare cited a 2009 study that revealed only 15% of college-educated Americans have heard of bonobos, an especially startling statistic when compared with recognition rates of the other great apes—chimps and orangutans at 80%, and gorillas at a perfect 100%. (Our new CrowdRise video highlights this fact with some candid “person-on-the-street” interviews!) This workshop represents an early but important step in bringing interested groups together to raise the bonobo’s profile and to get the public engaged in bonobo conservation.
The day began with a panel discussion about the current conservation efforts and research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Panel participants included Sally Coxe of BCI, Dr. Gay Reinhartz of the Milwaukee Zoological Society, Fanny Minesi of Lola Ya Bonobo, and Dr. Satoshi Hirata of Kyoto University. Though each organization has a different emphasis, there were many recurring themes regarding effective strategies for conservation and the challenges that conservationists face. The complexity of the situation was repeatedly noted, acknowledging that the solution to bonobo conservation must be multifaceted. Speakers touched on the importance of working with local communities and finding economic alternatives to hunting, one of the main threats to bonobo survival. Education, both in the DRC and beyond, was cited as a key component to engaging support and instilling a conservation mindset. Sally spoke about the importance of giving local communities the support they need to take the lead in conservation, and how conservation is going viral—spreading from community to community—in the Bonobo Peace Forest. The biggest challenge cited for all groups is lack of stable and sufficient funding, which led the discussion back to the importance of awareness. As Sally pointed out, “Only if people know about bonobos will they care, and only if they care will they do anything to help.”
The second panel addressed the current status of awareness in the US. Three scientists–Dr. Brian Hare, BCI board member Dr. Amy Parish, and Dr. Jeroen Stevens–who have worked extensively with bonobos in captivity presented their experiences and recommendations regarding communicating with the public about bonobos. Bonobos certainly need more media coverage, and one way to drive that is through research. The more that we learn about bonobos, the more news can be generated, and the more familiar bonobos will become. Bonobos are fascinating in their own right, but there’s no question that their relationship to humans is key to piquing people’s interest. Questions were raised about the role of zoos and institutions in providing educational and outreach opportunities for the general public. Dr. Hare cautioned that not all exposure is good exposure. While promoting bonobos and their exceptional qualities, it’s vital to also emphasize that they are not human, they are not pets, and they are, in fact, endangered apes who require our help.
How do we go about securing that help for our primate cousins? This is where awareness comes in. Public awareness leads both to more donations, and to more pressure on governments to provide grants and other positive conservation measures. There are many audiences to be reached and many ways to reach them; everyone has a part to play in bonobo conservation. One way to reach people is through youth-oriented programs. Susan Guinn, whose son founded Kid EcoClub, spoke of young people’s enthusiasm for environmental causes. She also raised the point that, in this digital age, efforts like “virtual field trips” can include many children who otherwise might not have exposure to bonobos. Films and other media are essential for broadcasting the importance of bonobos to children and adults alike. Asher Jay, creative conservationist, and Greg Carson, chief creative officer of marketing firm MeringCarson, both emphasized how crucial it is to create clear and compelling messages for the public, many of whom have never heard of bonobos.
Raising awareness goes beyond the general public. Awareness must be raised in government, in institutions, and in corporations. Government can ensure environmental education in school, as well as providing critical funding. Extractive industries, like logging, mining, and industrial agriculture need to be kept in check in order to prevent complete destruction of the habitat. Corporations can be encouraged to increase philanthropic efforts. Research institutions and zoos can work together to discover more about bonobos and publicize those findings. Only by reaching all these channels can we achieve the coordinated response necessary to protect bonobos.
Awareness is wonderful, but it only helps if it is linked to action. Kudos to Ashley Stone and her new Bonobo Project for bringing people together and bringing in new, creative resources to tackle the problem. We are excited to be part of these new collaborative initiatives.
At BCI, we are launching a new CrowdRise campaign to raise awareness and provide immediate support for bonobos. There are as few as 15,000 bonobos left in the wild; we are looking for 15,000 supporters—one human for each bonobo—to contribute and to spread the word about bonobos. 15,000 bonobos, 15,000 supporters—we can get there with your help! Thank you for your continued support!