Field Update

Great progress continues in the Yetee forest of the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve! The team of scientists, led by Dr. Martin Surbeck of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI), has been working every day to gain new information about the three bonobo groups in the area. Collaboration with the local community continues, and new camera traps are yielding fascinating results!

Tupac, of the Nkokoalongo bonobos, practices his vocalizations; Photo Credit: Martin Surbeck
Tupac, of the Nkokoalongo bonobos, practices his vocalizations
Photo Credit: Martin Surbeck

In August, Dr. Surbeck returned to the forest to oversee the projects underway. Researchers Claudia Wilke, Rodolphe Violleau, Stefano Lucchesi, and Leveda Chang have been working with local trackers to collect samples and behavioral data on the Ekalakala, Nkokoalongo, and Bekako bonobo groups. After spending most of the summer together, the Ekalakala and Nkokoalongo groups have now started ranging in different areas of the territory. Stefano has been studying how food brings bonobos together and what happens when they meet; observing when and how the two groups rejoin will provide great insight into this aspect of bonobo behavior. Meanwhile, a team of trackers has been newly trained and is doing an excellent job of collecting information on the Bekako group. Not only are the trackers gathering important data, they are also habituating the Bekako bonobos to human presence, a process that requires consistent exposure over time. Habituated bonobos allow for more informative research and for ecotourism, both of which are a boon for the survival of bonobos and their habitat. The trackers’ work is made possible in part by grants from the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and the Primate Protection Fund. We’re all excited to see what the Bekako trackers discover! The more groups we can closely observe, the more we can learn about bonobos.

The research team enjoying a feast at the forest camp; Photo Credit: Martin Surbeck
Research team enjoying a feast at the forest camp
Photo Credit: Martin Surbeck

Even the most dedicated researchers can’t observe the forest around the clock; that’s why we’re so thrilled that the camera traps have arrived! Camera traps are equipped with motion detectors that trigger the device to take photos or video. They gather data in a way that is safe and unobtrusive, and they allow researchers to observe animals and behaviors that might otherwise be inaccessible. The Kokolopori camera traps have been so successful that they’ve even surprised the scientists! In addition to capturing footage of the bonobos, the traps have also revealed the presence of aardvarks, African golden cats, sitatunga, red river hogs, and multiple species of duiker. This diversity is a very positive sign; it also reinforces the fact that protecting bonobos results in the protection of myriad other species and contributes greatly to the overall health of the forest.

The work extends beyond the forest; wonderful developments are happening in the village, as well! Thanks to a generous contribution from MPI, construction of two primary schools is underway. Vie Sauvage, BCI’s local managing partner, is taking the lead in the construction, with community members pitching in to complete the project. Access to instruction and educational facilities is a major challenge in these remote rainforest communities, and is one of the most vital areas to address. Education is one of the most effective ways to improve lives for individuals and for communities. It’s a huge boon to the village that, by early 2018, Kokolopori children will have two brand new schoolhouses in which to grow and learn. This construction is one important step in the mission to provide Kokolopori with quality educational opportunities. BCI is currently preparing a reserve-wide educational program, supported by a grant from the Disney Conservation Fund, that will be implemented in the coming year.

Peche, of the Ekalakala bonobos, is growing up before our eyes; Photo credit: Martin Surbeck
Peche, of the Ekalakala bonobos, is growing up before our eyes!
Photo credit: Martin Surbeck

Stay tuned for more updates from the field! Want to keep the work growing? Please consider donating today. You make it all possible!