Praise for Empty Hands, Open Arms
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Here is the matter of conservation given profound explanation—a searching and knowing consideration that enables an important social and political and cultural struggle in Africa to become a needed lesson for us who live elsewhere to ponder, take to heart.
Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, MacArthur Fellow, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Béchard offers us an inspired, poignant and seriously researched look at a subject of profound importance, the protection of bonobos and of the rainforest. He reveals the crucial role that local indigenous knowledge and traditions can play in addressing what is truly the greatest threat to humanity: the degradation and destruction of our ecosystems. In a story at once captivating and shocking, he shows us that Western scientific experts do not have all of the answers and cannot simply impose programs developed in the US and Europe, but that committed, visionary individuals who are ready to make sacrifices and listen to the voices of the forest can also have a profound and lasting impact.
Wade Davis, National Geographic explorer-in-residence, and author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest, and Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest
We are about to lose one of our closest cousins, like us a primate. How many more cousins can we afford to lose before we are alone? And when we’re alone will we still be human—or a diminished animal ourselves? This dramatic account of heroic conservation efforts to save the bonobo, “our closest living relative alongside the chimpanzee,” is at once riveting, emotional, historical, and scientific, full of vignettes that disclose human and animal conflicts, sexuality, political and economic realities, psychological insight, and compassion. Into the Congo, this adventure reveals not a heart of darkness but a rich world of light, shade, and imperiled life, a connection between the human and the great circle of being, on whose circumference near us sits—if we help it—the bonobo, and the great rain forest it inhabits.
James Engell, Editor of Environment, An Interdisciplinary Anthology (Yale University Press, 2008) and Faculty Associate of the Harvard University Center for the Environment
We have poured billions into campaigns to protect iconic or charismatic species from extinction. As human numbers and economic demands continue to climb, we are well into a sixth great extinction episode and thus the conservation efforts become all the more urgent. Nevertheless, money and human resources to protect nature pale beside the economic muscle-power of corporations and so conservation ventures must be more nimble, adaptable and efficient. Deni Béchard’s riveting journey through the “dark continent” provides a surprisingly uplifting story about a radically different and successful conservation program.
David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering our Place in Nature
Reading Empty Hands, Open Arms brought me nearly to tears of despair for the desperate, desperate situation of bonobos, the world’s most endearing and endangered great apes–and then again to tears of joyful admiration for the brave and smart people working to save them in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Buy this book, and you will discover a seed of hope in our time’s garden of despair.
Dale Peterson, author of The Moral Lives of Animals and Jane Goodall: the Woman who Redefined Man
Empty Hands, Open Arms offers us a vision of a truly non-colonial approach to conservation, one that respects both the rights and knowledge of local people, and engages with them as equal partners in conservation. As we work toward the UN Millennium Development Goal of ensuring environmental sustainability, this book has much to teach us about how we can save the earth’s wildlife and rainforests.
Philip Bonn, Director-General of World of Hope International, Special Consultative Status to United Nations ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council)
Deni Béchard in Empty Hands, Open Arms has accomplished no less than a tour de force in recounting the improbable and inspiring efforts of a small non-governmental group, the Bonobo Conservation initiative, that together with local indigenous leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is working to save one of the world’s most important rainforests and the living creature genetically closest to humankind, the bonobo. With literary flair, he offers a gripping account of the complicated and war-torn historical, political, and social context of conservation efforts in one of the most challenging places on earth—and makes a convincing case for hope. It is a story that movingly illuminates the time we live in, a tale of an emblematic struggle in which the fate of all of us and our future on this planet are at stake.
Bruce Rich, Visiting Scholar, Environmental Law Institute, Washington DC, and author of Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development, and To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century
Empty Hands, Open Arms is an emotionally-enthralling, nuanced voyage into the conundrums of bonobo conservation. Béchard evokes both the eye-popping culture of these peaceful great-apes and the inspiring community-conservationists collaborating in their survival. I highly recommend this absorbing, well-researched, and compassionate book to both environmentalists and general readers.
William Powers, author of Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa’s Fragile Edge
“People are at once the problem and the solution,” says Sally Jewell Coxe, founder of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, and Deni Béchard’s masterful and moving history of BCI bears this out. In BCI, Béchard finds a brilliant example of how conservationists can work with communities to save not only their own immediate environments but also the world at large through courage, cooperation and compassion.
Grant Hayter-Menzies, author of Imperial Masquerade and Shadow Woman
Readers of this book will be entertained and moved by Deni Béchard’s stories about this remarkable endangered and irreplaceable species and those dedicating their lives to saving them. On top of this, they will be informed and enlightened about the Congo, its lush forests, its tragic history, and its peoples’ struggle to build a sustainable future.
Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Sacred Pleasure, and The Real Wealth of Nations
Deni Béchard’s Empty Hands, Open Arms is the embodiment of the type of reporting that we dream of reading, but all too rarely encounter—intelligent, engaged, and above all, astonishingly perceptive. Here is a portrait of a nation and the conservationists trying to protect it, rendered with all the necessary complexity to make this book joyously alive.
Dinaw Mengestu, MacArthur Fellow and author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air
In this compelling and inspirational account, Béchard chronicles the visionary work being done to protect the bonobo and the world’s second largest rainforest—the “left lung” of the planet that produces much of the oxygen needed to sustain life on Earth.
Chip Comins, Founder, Chairman & CEO, American Renewable Energy Institute