Bonobo Conservation Initiative > About Us > BCI History and Accomplishments

BCI History and Accomplishments

BCI History

BCI was founded in 1998 in order to address the threats facing bonobos, including hunting and habitat destruction. The last to be discovered and the least known of all great apes, bonobos are still struggling for survival in many areas of their habitat, which lies entirely within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

With the intent to save bonobos, BCI’s leadership began by visiting remote rainforest villages to determine next steps. Their academic backgrounds in anthropology, folklore, psychology and comparative religion contrasted with training in biological sciences that is normative for many conservation leaders. The principles used in collaborating with local populations emerged from these initial explorations.

Acknowledging the inextricable connection between people and bonobos, BCI’s initial efforts included identifying and training local leaders and organizations, and building relationships with communities in the habitat. Together, BCI and its partners developed our vision for the Bonobo Peace Forest: a connected network of community-based reserves, supported by sustainable development.

Working with local partners and the government of the DRC, BCI has established two official protected areas so far: the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve and the Sankuru Nature Reserve, together spanning more than 13,000 square miles of vital rainforest habitat (larger than the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined). Beyond this, BCI has trained, equipped and provided ongoing support to partners in other key sites who are protecting bonobos. Together, we have initiated livelihood, health and education programs to support local communities and promote peace. This includes establishment of a technical college. The Bonobo Peace Forest is actually self-replicating, as local communities have joined this hopeful initiative of their own volition. In this way, BCI has pioneered a new, holistic model for conservation and sustainable development that benefits bonobos and people alike. By protecting large areas of rainforest, our work contributes substantially to mitigating climate change, of vital importance to all life on Earth.

BCI Accomplishments

Our major accomplishment is that our vision for the Bonobo Peace Forest (BPF) is taking hold. We have promoted cooperation among previously warring factions in the Congo who now work together to support the BPF. In cooperation with our Congolese partners, we have established two nature reserves (Kokolopori and Sankuru) spanning nearly 9 million acres, an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island combined. In addition, other active sites in development encompass an additional 3.8 million acres. Of these sites, one (Likongo) has recently received DRC government designation as a community forest, and a second (Lilungu) has initiated the steps to securing legal forest
protection through preparation of a “vacance de terre.” BCI project sites are creating a wide band of locally grounded protection for bonobos covering almost 10% of their range.
We have helped give indigenous Congolese leaders a voice in policy matters. Leaders from each Peace Forest site have joined together to form the Coalition for Community Conservation of Bonobos (CCCB),which is officially registered with the DRC government. This dynamic coalition provides a network for information sharing, collaboration, and improving local governance.

We have developed new models for education in the heart of the Congo rainforest. We established the Djolu Technical College, which is the only institution of higher learning in an area of 50,000 square miles. The College has made a transformative impact, building capacity and motivating the regional populations’ involvement in bonobo and biodiversity conservation and the development of sustainable solutions, such as mitigation of forest cover loss through agroforestry, and more.

BCI has also signed the first contract for REDD (forest carbon credits) in the DRC totaling 13,000 square miles. This is one of the largest forest carbon contracts on earth and supports a new model of public/private partnerships that will attract investment funds to protect the rainforest, and address climate change on an international scale. BCI has gained financial support from the African Development Bank, the Norwegian, UK and US governments, the United Nations, the Global Conservation Fund, Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and others.

Through our monitoring programs, and in partnership with Congolese and international partners, we have conducted bonobo and large mammal surveys at three of our sites. In addition to confirming the presence of bonobos at new sites, BCI survey teams have also discovered Cercopithecus dryas (IUCN Critically Endangered) at the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve and were the first to confirm the presence of okapi south of Congo River.


BCI has received international recognition and acclaim for its ground-breaking model and
accomplishments, including:

  • The Bonobo Peace Forest was selected as one of seven finalists for the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Challenge award. Known as “Socially Responsible Design’s Highest Award,” the Fuller Challenge “attracts bold, visionary , tangible initiatives,” from a worldwide pool of applicants. Read More:
  • BCI’s work is chronicled in the book Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral (Des bonobos et des Hommes, in French) by Commonwealth Prize-winning author Deni Béchard. The book describes how, despite overwhelming obstacles, BCI’s inclusive and participatory approach to conservation has achieved remarkable success and may be a new model for conservation.
  • Béchard also published an article entitled Viral Conservation in the peer-reviewed Solutions Journal, highlighting the self-replicating phenomenon of our approach. Read more:
  • Maya Lin, and her “What is Missing” Foundation, together with the Coalition of Rainforest Nations honored BCI with the UN COP 15 REDD + award in Copenhagen for best REDD+ rainforest protection projects. The award was shared with Jane Goodall and Wangari Maathai.
  • BCI received the DRC’s prestigious NKOI award, given for the first time ever to a non-Congolese organization.
  • BCI’s work has been featured in TIME Magazine, Smithsonian, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, and over 300 international media outlets.
  • BCI’s work has been and will be featured in TV documentaries, including ABC Australia’s Foreign Correspondent and a new 3-D movie, The Last of the Great Apes.
  • BCI’s president has been a featured guest on NPR (Diane Rehm and Animal House), Voice of America, CNN, and a number of other radio and TV shows.

While we have achieved substantial progress, bonobos remain in danger from bushmeat hunting and their rainforest habitat is threatened by logging and human encroachment. The need remains urgent to provide alternative livelihood opportunities and to expand protection for bonobos and other wildlife. Establishing legal protection for additional Bonobo Peace Forest reserves is a major objective we aim to achieve in the next five years.

Our ultimate goal is to transition to self-sustaining funding for our programs, while continuing to engage and empower the communities of the Bonobo Peace Forest. While we are making progress in developing carbon-based funding, establishing an endowment fund, and other long-term financing mechanisms, much work remains before this goal is fully realized.

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