What’s so special about the Bonobo Peace Forest?

Imagine a place where bonobos roam peacefully. Where millions of acres of rainforest are protected, keeping billions of tons of carbon out of our atmosphere. Where indigenous communities take the lead in conservation and benefit from sustainable sources of income, educational opportunity, and lifesaving services.

This place is real. Welcome to the Bonobo Peace Forest!

Bonobos at Kokolopori.

The Beginning

The Bonobo Peace Forest is the result of two decades of cooperation and collaboration between BCI and many national and international partners. When BCI was founded in 1998, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was in the throes of the Congo War, the world’s deadliest conflict since WWII. The toll was enormous on the population, the infrastructure, and the land itself. BCI President Sally Jewell Coxe wondered how best to protect bonobos and their habitat in the midst of the devastation.

During her second trip to the DRC in 2001, Sally began a close collaboration with Dr. Mwanza Ndunda, the director of the Congolese ecological research institute CREF, and Albert Lokasola, founder of local NGO Vie Sauvage. By the summer of 2002, thanks to a timely grant, a study of the area was conducted. Bonobo groups were identified, and BCI had started developing its integrated approach to conservation. It was clear that a far-reaching conservation effort was urgently needed, but how to best go about it?

The Turning Point

In a pivotal meeting in 2002, Sally joined with Congolese conservationists, scientists, and other local stakeholders in Kinshasa to find solutions. Immediately, the Congolese participants made it clear that they did not want a traditional park where indigenous people are driven off their ancestral lands. During the course of the meeting, a new vision was born, a connected network of community-managed reserves where humans, wildlife, and the forest all thrive. Given that bonobos are a symbol of peace in the Congo and beyond, the name was obvious. This moment was the beginning of the Bonobo Peace Forest.

Albert Lokasola, Sally Coxe, and Mwanza Ndunda
Albert Lokasola, Sally Coxe, and Mwanza Ndunda in 2009.

The Bonobo Peace Forest Today

Today, there are several active sites in the Peace Forest, including two officially protected reserves which together span nine million acres. And the Peace Forest continues to grow! Inspired by their neighbors, new communities are creating their own reserves and asking to join the Peace Forest.

Many of the original participants remain involved in the Bonobo Peace Forest, including Albert Lokasola, who manages the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve and has since become a Member of Parliament. His work has been instrumental in bringing the Peace Forest from vision to reality. Merci, Albert!

What’s Next?While the situation remains dire for bonobos, the growing Peace Forest offers hope for their future. In protecting bonobos and their rainforest habitat, this grassroots effort has global benefit. Our next step is to secure official protection for two million additional acres of land. This accomplishment would be HUGE, since the land links a critical habitat corridor for bonobos and other wildlife.

You can help make it happen. By contributing to our 20/20 campaign, you can fully fund our trackers for the entire year. Trackers are the first line of defense in forest protection (you’ll get to meet head tracker Leonard Nkanga in our next email!) and trackers’ equipment, training, and salaries are top priorities. Trackers keep the Peace Forest going—so let’s support them to keep the Peace Forest growing!

Thank you for being part of the Bonobo Peace Forest family!