Bonobos were being killed and sold in meat markets next to forest monkeys, antelope and bush pigs. Anything that could be shot with a 12 gauge shotgun or caught in a metal snare was laid out on the market racks for sale. We followed commercial hunters from the forests along the Lomami River to the markets in Kindu.
The governor responded to our plea and pronounced no- hunting seasons. We inaugurated a media campaign to engender respect for totally protected species (including bonobos). The campaign led to a collaboration with local populations, most of which realized that their forests were being emptied of all animals not just bonobos. These peoples have now gathered and laid out the borders of a future Lomami National Park where all animals will be protected.
But this impending disaster, the hunting of bonobos, possibly to local extinction, how widespread is it?
A number of concerned bonobo researchers started writing back and forth. It is clear that this disaster is across the whole bonobo range, all of Congo’s forests west and south of the Congo/Lualaba River.
The first contribution came from the bonobo orphanage in Kinshasa, LolayaBonobo. Pierrot Mbonzo is the sanctuary’s education coordinator and he assembled a list of what was known for forty-six of the more than 60 baby bonobos that have come into the sanctuary. Another colleague, José Kalpers, put the locations of where the babies were confiscated on a map (above). Where there are bonobo orphans, there are dead bonobo adults and orphans are coming from all corners of their range. Although no TL2 orphans are at LolayaBonobo, evidence from the TL2 forests is shattering. The photos at the bottom of this post are all cases of bonobo bushmeat from TL2.
In some areas bonobos already are locally extinct. Our own surveys showed that.
In other areas where researchers have interviewed hunters, they confirm that bonobos are regularly included in the catch.
Why do bonobos disappear under hunting pressure in some forests, but seem to survive in other hunted forest? Possible reasons:
a. Hunting is selective in some areas : bonobos aren’t hunted even though other animals are. There may be local taboos against killing bonobo. Villagers might prefer to eat other animals. Problem: Already some areas report bonobos being killed where previously a taboo protected them.
b. Hunting occurs in some areas at a very low level, so although bonobo are hunted, their removal is low. Problem: If hunting is low only because population is low (few hunters, low demand), it will increase as populations increases. Human population is increasing everywhere in Congo.
c. Hunting is new to an area and although there are still bonobos, their populations are decreasing rapidly. This is clearly the most frightening problem and was the case in southern TL2 where bonobos were coming to market at the rate of 225 per year.
Below is a table that shows all three possibilities from an area west of TL2. John led surveys in these areas a few years ago.
In Lomela hunter-population is increasing rapidly and they have no compunction about killing bonobo. The Iyaelima, half lived in bonobo forest without killing them for decades, but now foreign hunters are moving in.
WHAT IS ALARMING is that all three areas are inside a national park, Salonga National Park. National Parks are supposed to be the solution to the hunting problem. That is why we are pushing to form a national park in TL2.
WHAT IS HOPEFUL is that DRCongo has a new policy on how to create and manage protected areas. This will soon be confirmed by law. Local people and regional administrations are intimately involved in the process. TL2 is the first area to follow the new policies to form a protected area. We will continue to document it step by step. We are hopeful.
More photo evidence of bonobo bushmeat in TL2.