Humans are the biggest threat to bonobo survival; hunting, logging, and other human activities have pushed bonobos to the brink of extinction. However, humans are also the bonobos’ greatest hope. We at BCI believe that, working together, we can help bonobos not only survive but thrive. A crucial part of bonobo conservation is raising awareness, both at home in DRC and abroad. We combine traditional Congolese wisdom with scientific knowledge to communicate the importance of protecting bonobos and their rainforest home.
Within the bonobo habitat, local people have maintained much of their traditional culture and beliefs. BCI’s programs are founded on a cornerstone of Congolese tradition: reverence for the forest. To reach the common goal of preserving the forest, BCI supports a two-way flow of information between locals and visiting conservationists, Congolese and non-Congolese. We call this practice Information Exchange (IE). Conservationists gain valuable information about the forest and its residents, while local communities gain access to the newest scientific concepts and practices. By respecting and incorporating indigenous wisdom into our programs, we earn the trust and respect of our Congolese partners in conservation. For a great example of IE in action, please read about our project site in Lilungu.
Congolese lore about bonobos extends beyond simple hunting taboos. Bonobos feature prominently in local stories and songs. BCI teams have regularly been collecting these tales from villagers, and are currently developing programs to share these rich sources of traditional wisdom.
Music has always been a big part of Congolese life. In the words of Mulegwa Zihindula, former spokesperson for DRC President Joseph Kabila, “There are two things that influence the people of the Congo—music and the church.” Knowing that music has the power to reach millions, we have gratefully partnered with two of Congo’s top musicians, Papa Wemba and Werrason. Werrason is a hugely influential personality and a dedicated philanthropist, known both as “le Roi de la Forêt” (King of the Forest) and the Congo Ambassador of Peace. He made radio spots about the importance of protecting bonobos, which had a resounding impact. Called the “King of Rhumba Rock,” Papa Wemba is an established superstar in the DRC and abroad. His collaborations with Peter Gabriel and others sparked international acclaim. A native of Sankuru, Papa Wemba wrote and recorded a special song about bonobos, celebrating the Sankuru Nature Reserve. We will continue to collaborate with Papa Wemba, Werrason and other prominent musicians, Congolese and international, as we expand our awareness initiatives.
BCI supports education efforts across the globe. In DRC, BCI sensitizes local communities to the importance of bonobo conservation and provides training to local trackers, eco-guards and survey teams. Training in participatory mapping and Information Exchange is integrated into community conservation programs. We also provide instruction in sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry and a variety of other topics to promote sustainable livelihoods. We have provided aid and resources to Congolese primary schools, and are constantly striving to expand educational outreach.
Along with local partner Vie Sauvage, we established the Djolu Technical College for Conservation and Rural Development. This college—the only institution of higher learning within an over 100,000 square kilometer (40,000 square mile) area—provides opportunities for young people to learn about conservation management, sustainable agriculture, and micro-enterprise development.
Outside the DRC, BCI and affiliated organizations raise awareness about bonobo conservation in a variety of ways. BCI President Sally Coxe has presented talks and given interviews across the world, and BCI staff and volunteers have taken the conservation message to numerous communities and classrooms. For teachers wishing to include bonobo awareness curriculum in the classroom, we have provided Teacher Resources, a series of lesson plans and guidelines.
By far, our best educational resource is you! Many people are still unaware of the existence and importance of bonobos, and this lack of information and investment poses a great threat. Word-of-mouth can go a long way toward ensuring a brighter future for these amazing apes. Get involved today by sponsoring a bonobo, volunteering, or making a contribution. Most of all, spread the word!