incorporated nonprofit organization
Conservation of Bonobos
Update from Wamba!
New Year Greeting from Support for Conservation of Bonobos!
After the challenging year, we hope 2021 will be a great year for both bonobos and people!
Bonobos (Pan paniscus), along with chimpanzees, are our evolutionally closest living relatives. They live only in a limited area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Bonobos and chimpanzees are closely related and look alike, but you can distinguish bonobos from chimpanzees by their slender shape, rounder and smaller head, black face, and pink-ish lips. Baby bonobos have black faces while chimpanzee babies have pale faces.
Despite their similar appearance and close relatedness, bonobo society is considerably different from that of chimpanzees. Chimpanzee males almost entirely dominate females, while for bonobos males and females show co-dominance and the most dominant individuals tend to be females. Female bonobos have close social bonds and alliances, and these are rarely observed in chimpanzee females. On the other hand, social bonding and alliances among male bonobos are weak compared with those of chimpanzee males. Chimpanzee groups are almost always hostile to each other, while bonobo groups can peacefully coexist: bonobos of neighbouring groups are observed to co-feed, groom, and play together.
At Wamba, Tshuapa province, Democratic Republic of Congo, research and conservation activities of wild bonobos started in 1973, under the initiative of Japanese researchers.
Support for Conservation of Bonobos is an NPO organization that consists of researchers and people who are interested in conservation activities for bonobos. We are mainly conducting conservation activities for wild bonobos at Luo Scientific Reserve (Wamba) and the surrounding area, as well as fund-raising activities in Japan to support the only bonobo sanctuary in the world, “Lola ya bonobo,” in Kinshasa.
Bonobos face the threat of extinction for various reasons, such as habitat loss, and poaching for bushmeat and pet trading. These pressures are elevated by the movements of conflict and corporations. When military, mining, or forestry interests build their encampments within these areas, the hunting pressure increases astronomically. After the civil wars between 1996 and 2003, the number of wild bonobos was estimated to be substantially below 10,000. Currently, bonobos are still facing the threat of extinction due to mineral mining and deforestation, and poaching.
People living around Wamba are called Bongand(o), and are primarily agriculturalists. "Slash-and-burn" agriculture is particularly common, and daily activities are centered on farming cassava, corn, and other crops. Their food resources are supplemented by various activities in the forest such as hunting, collecting wild plants, mushrooms, insects, and fishing in rivers. People live in villages along the main roads, but also have "a double life of forest and village", as they frequently go to forest camps and can spend a few weeks there hunting and gathering.
As well as using the forest to obtain food resources, Bongand(o) people are also culturally linked to the forest. They have a expansive knowledge about useful plants, including medicinal plants as well as foods. They also have many folk tales in which animals appear. Among them, bonobos take a special and important role as the closest neighbor to human beings.
Traditionally, hunting bonobos has been strictly prohibited, and people have coexisted with bonobos. This human-bonobo peaceful coexistence is the reason why bonobo research was established at Wamba in the first place.
However, due to the difficult political and economic situation in DR Congo, the local people are forced to live a difficult life. When people are threatened, forests and animals are also at risk. To make a living, some people have to log the forest and poach animals. Therefore, supporting the livelihoods of local people is very important for conservation. We have carried out activities such as providing school and hospital supplies, and improving infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Bonobo research and the lives of local people are inseparably linked, and are developing together.
We have been conducting research and conservation activities at Wamba, Luo Scientific Reserve, and the surrounding area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1974. There is a taboo in Wamba against killing bonobos because of a folktale that tells of how humans and bonobos were originally brothers in the same family. People and bonobos have been peacefully coexisting together in the same forest forever.
We consider that such a coexistence of people and wildlife should be respected and valued. In the late 1980s, it became necessary to establish a protected area for bonobos due to requests from inside and outside the country. At the time, we were against the idea of establishing a National Park there, because it meant that people in the area would have had to move out and be banned from using the forest. Instead, we established the Luo Scientific Reserve in 1990, which supports the coexistence of local people and wild bonobos.
Currently, we are observing four groups (ca. 140 individuals) of wild bonobos around the Wamba village, which provide us with valuable knowledge about bonobos as well as important insights on human evolution. However, only telling the facts about how valuable bonobos are is not enough for bonobo conservation. We need to tell people that there are benefits of protecting bonobos, and we need to act to ensure those benefits. Specifically, we established the only hospital in the village in 2011 and have been supporting medical devices and supplies; we support the construction of schools as well as providing school supplies; we contribute towards maintaining and repairing roads and bridges; and we hire local people as forest guards. We also provide scholarships for secondary school and university students from Wamba and the surrounding area.
Wamba Committee for Bonobo Research (WCBR) is a group of researchers who work in and around the Wamba area (primatologists, anthropologists, ecologists, etc.).
We are currently observing four groups of bonobos (ca. 140 individuals) around Wamba village. Of these, we conduct daily follows (from morning until they make their night beds) on two groups (E1 and PE).
Each bonobo is given a name, and we can distinguish them by their facial and body characteristics. Please visit our SNS (Facebook and Instagram)!