The AAC’s Bonobo Sanctuary-Nursery in Kinshasa

The association “Les Amis des Animaux au Congo” (AAC, the Friends of Animals in Congo) is a non-profit organization which was first created in 1994 with the objective of providing food for the animals in the Kinshasa Zoo. After several orphaned bonobos arrived at the zoo, special interest was taken in their wellbeing and the AAC expanded its focus to the conservation of the bonobos in captivity and in the wild. While bonobo protection has become the AAC’s primary activity, it continues to provide support to the zoo, contributing to the animals’ food and a symbolic compensation for the staff.

The creation of a sanctuary-nursery for bonobos in Kinshasa grew out of two major necessities:

· The critical need to find a suitable place to bring up the orphaned bonobos, which the DRC Ministry of Environment helps AAC confiscate from vendors in the Kinshasa markets and in the streets;

· The need to protect the future of the bonobos remaining in the wild in the DRC, by educating the Congolese people, especially the children, about them.

A partnership was established between the AAC and the Ministry of Environment, allowing the sanctuary to become a reality. Created in mid-1995, the sanctuary has been in its current location at the American school of Kinshasa (TASOK) since July 1998. There are now 18 bonobos at the sanctuary, 10 females and 8 males, ranging in age from one to eight years.

The bonobo nursery-sanctuary’s primary objectives are:

· to secure permanent medical and psychological attention for the infant bonobos, to provide adequate space for physical exercise and social interaction, and to provide an appropriate diet;

· to provide an appropriate site for educational programs for children and adults, most particularly for school groups;

· to familiarize the juvenile bonobos with humans and immunize them against human diseases, in anticipation of their transfer to a larger reserve, where adult bonobos would live in semi-freedom in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible while allowing for educational visits and scientific observation.

Care of the orphaned bonobos
The nursery-sanctuary is located within the campus of the American school of Kinshasa. Its facilities include an enclosed forest area –where the bonobos can interact with each other, allowing visitors to observe bonobo behavior in their natural environment –, a grass area with playground structures for physical development, a separate sleeping shelter where the bonobos’ night cages are located, an office and a classroom that can hold 20-30 students.

The sanctuary-nursery is designed as a semi-free environment to care for the juvenile bonobos before their transfer to a future home at Mount Ngaliema Park or elsewhere in Congo. This transfer will occur when the juveniles have reached adulthood and have organized themselves into a social structure of some sort. Plans to create a reserve for adult bonobos within the 250 ha Mount Ngaliema Park were derailed by the war, but will be resumed as soon as the situation allows (it is imperative that this reserve be created in two to three years at most). The Mount Ngaliema park offers an ideal situation, with a primary forest similar to the bonobos’ natural habitat but only ten minutes from the center of Kinshasa, thereby providing a great opportunity for the public to observe them and learn more about them. Alternative options exist and will be investigated, though none can provide so ideal a location for education purposes as Mount Ngaliema Park.

Bonobos are very sensitive psychologically and physically and the trauma of separation from their mothers can be life-threatening. Orphaned bonobos will tend to let themselves die unless they are provided with a substitute mother for as many hours of the day as possible. For lack of any adult bonobo within the group, this role is played by the AAC staff. The orphan is then completely dependent on its substitute mother for 8 to 10 hours every day –and will be very reluctant to change or to share its substitute mother.

Education for protection
For almost two years, the association has been hosting weekly visits of the sanctuary by Congolese school groups. With assistance from a local tour operator (who provides the transportation), one or two classes and their teachers have been coming every week to observe the bonobos in the semi-freedom of their forest and to learn about their behavior, biology and protection. School visits are always free of charge.

Visitors have the opportunity to directly observe and interact with the bonobos and to learn the scientific background for understanding the interconnections between primates and humans. AAC staff and volunteers present information on all aspect of bonobos behavior, development and protection through the presentation of videos, pictures and demonstrations. The visits are made in French or in Lingala, as appropriate, and typically last half a day.

Additional education and lobbying efforts are addressed towards protection in the wild. One target is logging companies, which can play a key role in developing forest buffer zones and discourage the sale of bush meat. Another target of lobbying effort is the DRC government itself, in order to sensitize it to the importance of conservation for the future of Congo. This has become particularly important with the recent extension of the war to towns and villages within the bonobo range, presumably leading to an increased trade in bush meat. A dramatic increase in the number of orphaned bonobos found for sale in Kinshasa over the past six to eight months is a dire testimony of what is likely happening to their older relatives. The AAC has been lobbying the Ministry of Environment for renewed radio and tv campaigns about the bonobos and CITES, and for the systematic application of CITES through the confiscation of all orphaned bonobos found in Kinshasa.

Reflection Workshop on the Consequence of the War on the Bonobo
On June 3, 2000, the AAC, under the patronage of his Excellency the Minister of Environment, will be organizing a one day reflection workshop on the consequences of the war on the situation of endemic species in the DRC, focusing on the special case of the bonobo. Over the past six to eight months, the AAC’s Bonobo Sanctuary-Nursery has received seven infant bonobos confiscated on the streets of Kinshasa or brought to the Sanctuary by their would-be vendors. This compares to one or two infants confiscated in each of the previous years. Considering that an estimated 10 to 20 adult bonobos may be killed for each infant brought for sale in Kinshasa, this portends a dramatic situation for the survival of this species in the wild. The reflection workshop, which will bring together all local actors concerned by the bonobo’s current fate, aims to raise awareness of the bonobo’s uniqueness and of the risks posed to its survival by the war, and to propose possible solutions to help remedy this situation before this rare species endemic to the DRC faces extinction.
The AAC’s Bonobo Sanctuary-Nursery in Kinshasa

Projet Protection des Gorilles

Les Amis des Animeaux au Congo

Les Amis des Animeaux au Congo

Website: www.help-primates.org

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