Lui Kotale Bonobo Project
Bonobo Conservation in DR Congo
Project Directors: Barbara Fruth and Gottfried Hohmann
Bonobos are the least discovered species of al great apes. Their area of distribution is restricted to the rainforests south of the Congo River, by which they are separated from the other species of African Great Apes, chimpanzees and Gorillas. The separation of Chimpanzees and Bonobos is considered being due to a geographic separation, dated back to around 1,2 Mio years.
The project directed by Gottfried Hohmann and me is located at the south-western fringe of Salonga National Park, Bandundu, DRC. The field site with its research camp (see picture left) was established in 2002. For our scientific investigations we have habituated one community to our presence, habituation of a second community is underway. We obtain our data from systematic behavioural observations of focal individuals, using non-invasively collected urine, faeces and hair from night nests as physiological and molecular reference data to explore causes and consequences of social behaviour. By that we are able to identify kin relationships and measure hormones, stable isotopes and other physiological markers that help to better understand proximate mechanisms of the observed behaviour as well as individual health conditions.
Bonobos are classified as Endangered on The IUCN Red List, and listed under Class A in the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. So far no nationwide census has been conducted, however smaller scale investigations allow population estimates ranging between 15.000 and 50.000 individuals.
Although both national and international laws prohibit the killing or capturing of Bonobos, their largest threat is commercial hunting. In addition, habitat loss due to slash and burn agriculture as well as industrial logging, farming and mining add on the risk of their population decrease.
This is why in addition to our scientifically motivated observations, we have developed a multi-fold approach in order to contribute to the species' survival. It's starting with our permanent presence on ground including members of several villages into our day-to-day work, but it also includes other selective measures such as a) anti-poaching patrols conducted jointly by national park authorities and local people in order to regularly control the area around our study site; b) education measures on primary and secondary schools of the adjacent villages; c) assessments of presence and density of mammal and other fauna, d) assessments of the potential of the area for eco-tourism; and e) support and mediation of local initiatives moving towards alterative options for cash income.
In sum, the project tries to integrate the interests of scientists and stakeholders, combining various aspects around research and conservation in order to develop a collaboration that grants a mutual benefit for all players above all the natural resources and their emblematic inhabitant, the bonobo.