Claudine André created Friends of Bonobos in Congo more than 25 years ago and passed the torch to her daughter, Fanny Minesi, in 2016. Her association rehabilitates and releases bonobos orphaned because of illegal game trafficking. Educational programmes to learn more about the species are created in the hope that their species will grow back in the wild.
Friends of Bonobos (ABC) has been rescuing, rehabilitating, and re-releasing into the wild, bonobos orphaned by the illegal bushmeat trade. They work with local law enforcement agencies and other conservation NGOs to locate and rescue bonobos needing assistance. They then rehabilitate these bonobos at their sanctuary, the only one of its kind. The bonobos which are able to return to the wild are released into Ekolo ya Bonobo, a government recognized protected area consisting of 120,000 acres of rainforest habitat managed and protected in partnership with the local communities living in the area.
The guardians of the bonobos are the local people who live in and around the bonobo’s rainforest habitat. To help them accomplish their goal of protecting the bonobos, while developing their own community, they work with volunteers who build and implement programs that improve lives. ABC has delivered medical equipment, supported the birthing clinic, provided medicine for the village pharmacy as well as educational materials for schools. In addition to their work saving bonobos, ABC has also made education and awareness building a priority in its conservation model. Each year, thousands of Congolese children and adults visit the sanctuary and participate in their educational outreach programmes to learn about bonobos and why we should conserve them.
Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are endangered great apes found only south of the Congo river in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Years of political instability and war have resulted in widespread poverty that has forced people to resort to bushmeat hunting to survive, decimating wild bonobo populations in the process. While the exact number of bonobos left in the wild is unknown, some estimate there could be as few as 5,000. If no efforts are made to conserve them, they may go extinct in our lifetime.
The work of ABC has largely shaped what is possible with bonobo conservation. Before Lola ya Bonobo, there was no place for bonobo orphans to be rehabilitated or find sanctuary, leaving them vulnerable to the bushmeat trade. The organisation has led the global re-release of bonobo’s into the wild, from the bonobo population rehabilitated at Lola. Through the reintroduction program, ABC ensures that fewer bonobos are permanently lost from the wild, with a goal of seeing the populations of wild bonobos rise in the future. Their community development and educational programs have proven successful as well. Since ABC’s establishment over 25 years ago, they have noticed significant improvements in local attitudes towards bonobos and conservation with more people taking action to help them rescue and protect them.
The work of ABC is focused in the Democratic Republic of Congo in areas where bonobos live and are most heavily trafficked. The educational programs cover the sanctuary, the nearby city of Kinshasa, as well as Sankuru province and other areas with high bonobo trafficking. ABC made education and awareness building a priority: each year, thousands of Congolese children and adults visit the sanctuary and participate in educational outreach programs to learn about bonobos and why we should conserve them.
Educational work around the Ekolo ya Bonobo community reserve, in Equateur Province, is also undertaken and managed in partnership with the indigenous Ilonga-Poo and Baenga people.
In addition to their work saving bonobos and improving local attitude towards them, ABC has delivered medical equipment, supported the birthing clinic, provided medicine for the village pharmacy and educational materials for schools.
There were and continue to be, severe challenges to saving bonobos. Bonobos are only found in one place in the entire world – the Democratic Republic of Congo – a country that has experienced war and political instability throughout much of its history. It is also a country which remains one of the poorest in the world. Widespread poverty is the main driver of poaching and the bushmeat trade that both severely threaten the population of bonobos in the wild. Over time, they have worked to address these issues through community development initiatives aimed at promoting conservation through human well-being.
The DRC is itself a difficult landscape to navigate, both environmentally and politically. The limited infrastructure in the remote rainforests of the DRC, makes transportation and access to electricity difficult. ABC works with both local and national authorities to utilise the law to strengthen protection for bonobos and their habitat, which can be a slow and tedious process. Doing conservation in this environment takes patience, persistence and the ability to adapt to constantly changing circumstances, including the threats of Ebola and other life-threatening illnesses. It takes a deep knowledge of the history, people, and culture of the Congo and the ability to build strong coalitions and partnerships. Simply put, when told ‘no,’ which is very often, they just kept looking for the solution that will be given a ‘yes.
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