Nestled on the banks of the Tshuapa River, Lilungu is a special haven for bonobos. The Bakela people maintain traditional beliefs honoring bonobos and are actively working with BCI to establish official protection of their forest.

With the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve to the north and the Sankuru Nature Reserve to the south, Lilungu links a critical wildlife corridor in a key area of bonobo habitat. BCI and Congolese partner Centre de Recherche en Écologie et Foresterie(CREF) have been working together with the local community at Lilungu since 2005, conducting surveys, monitoring the bonobos, and establishing cooperative conservation and community development programs. Today, three groups of bonobos are habituated to human presence and are monitored daily by local tracking teams, supported by BCI.

Conservation Center at Lilungu
Conservation Center at Lilungu

Powerful traditions

Our site in Lilungu is a great example of Information Exchange (IE) in action. The local Bakela community has longstanding taboos against hunting bonobos, even in the most trying times. When asked why they don’t hunt bonobos, they explain that bonobos are related to their ancestors. They feel a kinship with the “people of the forest.” However, not everyone in the broader region shares this belief; traditional practices have been diluted by the war, immigration of displaced people, and the lure of the commercial bushmeat trade, which threatens all wildlife. BCI surveys show that, in general, bonobo populations are lower where traditional taboos are absent. Information about local beliefs helps BCI and its collaborators identify the most effective way to approach potential community partners.

Lilungu Women Unite for Bonobos

We often worry about humans encroaching on bonobo territory, but every now and then bonobos return the favor. After bonobos pilfered their cooking pots on two occasions, the women of the Merci Bonobo cooperative actually planted crops for the bonobos! These crops serve as a buffer zone, which provides a food source for bonobos, protects crops cultivated by villagers and generally diminishes human-bonobo conflict.

Lilungu Womens’ Association
Lilungu Womens’ Association

Creating the Lilungu Nature Reserve

Because Lilungu residents recognize the importance of bonobo protection, they have signed community accords to create a nature reserve as part of the Bonobo Peace Forest network. None of the progress in Lilungu would be possible without the full participation and leadership of local communities—and they need your support.

Donate today to help us make the Lilungu Nature Reserve a reality!