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Endangered Great Ape Finds Safe Haven

New rainforest reserve protects more than 1,000 bonobos and benefits local communities

KINSHASA, DRC, May 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) joins the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in announcing the official establishment of the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, a community-managed protected area which harbors one of the largest known wild populations of the endangered bonobo. The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is the pilot and model site for the Bonobo Peace Forest, a proposed constellation of community-based nature reserves supported by sustainable development.

Larger than the state of Rhode Island, the 1,847 mi2 (4,875 km2) rainforest reserve delivers essential ecosystem services to the world, including biodiversity protection and carbon sequestration, and benefits the local people through training, employment and community development programs. These include sustainable agriculture, a health clinic, aid for local schools, a women's microcredit program and the first institute of higher learning in the region, the Djolu Technical College for Rural Development and Conservation, established in tandem with the reserve.

"The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is a milestone for the protection of bonobos and their precious habitat in the Congo Basin," says Sally Jewell Coxe, president and co-founder of BCI. "What began as a grassroots, community initiative now exemplifies a new model for conservation that is proving to be effective and sustainable."

In danger of extinction, bonobos (Pan paniscus) were the last great ape to be discovered and are the least known great ape species. Found only in the DRC, bonobos inhabit the heart of Africa's Congo Basin--the world's second largest rainforest--which is increasingly threatened by industrial logging, commercial bushmeat hunting and agricultural encroachment. Bonobos are known for their peaceful, cooperative, matriarchal society, their remarkable intelligence and their sexual nature. Apart from humans, bonobos are the only primates known to have sex not just for procreation, but also for pleasure and conflict resolution, with members of either sex. These uncommon apes serve as a powerful flagship species, both for conservation and for peace.

The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is vital to research on and protection of bonobos, as it is one of the only sites where wild bonobos are habituated to human presence and can be viewed and studied on a daily basis. Albert Lotana Lokasola, president of the local NGO Vie Sauvage and the initiator of the project, says, "Since the time of our ancestors, our people, the Bongando, have traditionally protected and respected bonobos through taboos, legends and rituals celebrating bonobos as our closest relative and friend. The bonobo saved our ancestors from numerous dangers in the forest. We build on these traditions... We hope that many people will come and visit Kokolopori to enjoy and work with us to strengthen the reserve."

"What is truly exceptional is how the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve has inspired other communities in the bonobo habitat who have voluntarily initiated their own projects to protect their forest and bonobos," says Coxe of BCI. "Beyond that, Kokolopori inspired the residents of Falls Church, Virginia to create the first sister city partnership between the USA and the DRC. This shows how a common vision and positive action can motivate many people and create a grand result."

The project has been largely supported by the Global Conservation Fund and the Central Africa Program of Conservation International, which provide both financial and technical support, and other donors, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Ape Conservation Fund. Through the Kokolopori-Falls Church Sister City Partnership, the citizens of Falls Church, Virginia have contributed essential support for community development programs and have initiated a dynamic cultural exchange that benefits both communities.

Jose Endundo, the DRC Minister of the Environment, who officially declared the new reserve, said, "We are proud to support this innovative, community-driven initiative, which protects a vital rainforest and rare and endemic species, including the bonobo and Salongo monkey (Cercopithecus dryas), now being studied for the first time in Kokolopori. The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve is aiding the local human population with means of sustainable economic development, education and opportunities, while also contributing to our country's commitment to protect 15 percent of our national lands. I salute the leadership of Vie Sauvage and BCI and thank the many partners who have made this nature reserve a success and model for other communities to follow."

The Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to the survival of the endangered bonobo (Pan paniscus) and its rainforest habitat in the Congo Basin. BCI works with indigenous Congolese people through cooperative conservation and community development programs and with the government of the DRC to establish new protected areas and to safeguard bonobos wherever they are found. BCI was selected as a featured charity in the Catalogue for Philanthropy, for excellence, innovation, and cost-effectiveness.

SOURCE Bonobo Conservation Initiative
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