Bonobo Conservation Initiative > Programs > Preserving Rainforest > Sankuru Nature Reserve

Sankuru Nature Reserve

At 30,570 square kilometers (11,800 square miles), the Sankuru Nature Reserve is the world’s largest continuous protected area for great apes. This important site began at the grassroots level with local communities and is the first large-scale reserve in the Congo to be managed by the indigenous people. In addition to protecting great apes, this reserve is also a vital part of our environmental initiatives: REDD+, watershed protection, and species conservation.

Environmental Impact

The protection of the Sankuru Nature Reserve is a major achievement in the fight against global warming. Nearly 20% of annual green house gas emissions come from deforestation and other land-use change. Keeping this rich tropical forest intact will make an important contribution to global efforts to reduce emissions while simultaneously conserving biodiversity. The Sankuru Reserve stores up to 660 million tons of carbon, which if released by deforestation would emit up to 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, comparable to emissions from 38,000,000 cars per year for 10 years.

Sankuru is the recipient of the first REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) contract in the DRC, indicating its vital role in pioneering a new paradigm for community-led conservation. In addition to combating climate change, the REDD+ strategy also protects ecosystem diversity and helps to ensure the livelihoods and welfare of the local people.

Species Conservation

The diversity of wildlife in Sankuru is staggering. In addition to the bonobo, the Sankuru Reserve contains the okapi (Okapia johnstoni), an exotic short necked forest giraffe also native to the DRC, but not previously found outside of their known range far to the northeast.  In 2006, survey teams from the Congo’s Centre de Recherche en Écologie et Foresterie (CREF) sponsored by BCI made this exciting discovery. Sankuru also contains elephants, which have been hunted out in many other areas of the Congo forest, plus at least 10 other species of primates, including the rare owl faced monkey and blue monkey.

Bushmeat Trade

The Sankuru region was hit very hard during the recent war in the Congo, which devastated the local people and claimed four million lives—more than any war since WWII. The lack of economic opportunity led to unsustainable hunting practices, a situation described by the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) as “ecocide.” The ICCN recommendation that the Sankuru ecosystem and watershed area be protected was instrumental in the swift creation of the Sankuru Nature Reserve. One of BCI’s most urgent priorities in the Sankuru Nature Reserve is to help the local people develop economic alternatives to the bushmeat trade­–and to provide protection against illegal hunters encroaching on the territory.

The commercial bushmeat trade is devastating wildlife populations throughout Central Africa and we are in a race against time to stop it.  Hunting of bonobos also leaves behind defenseless orphans, too small to be sold for meat but too young to fend for themselves. BCI and Congolese NGO ACOPRIK (Community Action for the Primates of Kasai) have rescued several orphan bonobos near Sankuru and taken them to safety at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in Kinshasa.

Andre Tosumba, director of ACOPRIK, led the successful local effort to protect Sankuru. “When I saw the extent to which people were hunting bonobos, okapi, and elephants, we began to sensitize them to realize the value of these animals,” he said. “Once they came to understand, the people themselves decided to stop hunting these precious species and to create a reserve to protect their forest. BCI has helped ACOPRIK and the local people at every step of the way; we call on the international community to join our effort.”


The Sankuru Nature Reserve is supported in part by the Congo Basin Forest Fund of the United Kingdom and Norway and by the Great Ape Conservation Fund, administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Sankuru’s most important supporters, though, are generous donors like you.  Be a part of the progress in Sankuru Nature Reserve–make a donation today! By working together, we can make sure that Sankuru Nature Reserve maintains abundant forests, diverse wildlife, and thriving communities.

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