Conservation challenges

Status of Wild Populations

The Red List of Threatened Species, published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), classifies the bonobo as Endangered due to exploitation by humans - bonobos are hunted in much of their range - and loss of rain forest-habitat – due to timber harvesting, industrial agriculture, and slash-and-burn farming. The endangered listing means that the species faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild.

There are no precise estimates of the number of bonobos remaining in the wild because, to date, field surveys cover only about 30% of the species’ historic range. Hence, the current estimate of the bonobo population ranges widely from 20,000 to 50,000 individuals (Bonobo Conservation Strategy 2012-2022). Even though the exact size of the wild population is unknown, it is certain that bonobos are declining in parts of their range and that the population is discontinuous and scattered throughout the remaining forests of central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Bonobo Conservation Strategy identifies four regions, or “strongholds,” in DRC thought to contain the majority of the country’s remaining wild bonobos: the Salonga, Maringa-Lopori-Wamba, Lac Tumba-Lac Ndombe, and Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba. Below is a brief description of each of the regions:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa
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    The Salonga region extends beyond the boundaries of the national park to a land area of about 104,000 km2; however, the park, at approximately 36,000 km2, makes up about 35% of the region. Due to its vast size, protected status and relatively intact ecosystem, the national park is the centerpiece for bonobo conservation containing up to 40% of the estimated meta-population in DRC. [Between 2000 and 2002, BCBI researchers surveyed 11 areas throughout the park and estimated then that the upper limit of the bonobo population in the park could be as high as 19,000 (Reinartz, et al 2006). Subsequent surveys by others put the number at about 15,000 bonobos (range 7,100 to 20,400, Grossman, et. al 2008).]
  • The Maringa-Lopori-Wamba region is located in north-central DRC, south of the Lopori River and north of the Maringa River and covers an area of approximately 74,000 km2. There are three important bonobo reserves in this landscape. The first is the Lomako Yokokala Faunal Reserve, a 3,625 km2 protected area. In 2009, BCBI worked with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) in the Cadjobe Corridor, part of a community-owned forest between the Maringa and Lomako Rivers near the Faunal Reserve, to train local people to survey and monitor bonobo populations. Secondly, the region is home to the Luo Scientific Reserve near the village of Wamba. Researchers from Japan’s Kyoto University have studied bonobos at the Luo Reserve since 1973. Also in this landscape is the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve, a 4,000 km2 forest cooperatively managed and protected by local communities.
  • The Lac Tumba-Lac Ndombe region covers an area of about 72,000 km2 around Tumba and Mai-Ndombe Lakes and adjacent to the Congo River. The 7,500 km2 Lac Tumba–Lediima Natural Reserve is located at the south edge of this region. The population is unique in that bonobos here occupy a savanna-forest mosaic ecosystem at the westernmost extent of the species’ range.
  • The Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba, or TL2 region, is approximately 20,000 km2 in size, extending from the Tshuapa River on the west, east to the Lualaba River. The Sankuru Natural Reserve is currently the only protected area within and adjacent to this region, although the TL2 Project and ICCN, among others, are proposing a new 9,000 km2 national park in the heart of the landscape, the Lomami National Park.

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