The Salonga National Park is the world’s stronghold for bonobos and an important reserve for the forest elephant. Regrettably, due to a lack of law enforcement and conservation resources, the park has suffered from decades of uncontrolled and illegal hunting. Moreover, little is known about the park’s wildlife populations. In collaboration with the Congolese park authority (ICCN) and other partners, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee’s BCBI addresses these challenges by combining anti-poaching support and guard training with wildlife population surveys and community assistance projects. Since 1997, BCBI has been a consistent and effective conservation force in DRC. Our goal is to ensure the survival of the bonobo and forest elephant and the preservation of the Salonga National Park.
One of the most urgent conservation needs for the bonobo is to find out where they live and how many exist in the wild. Before our original surveys in 1998, bonobos were thought not to exist in the Salonga National Park. The park is now recognized as the world’s centerpiece for bonobo conservation as well as an important sanctuary for the threatened forest elephant.
Today we focus our survey activity in the Watsi Kengo Sector of the park, which comprises an area of about one-fifth of the park’s surface. Our research aim is to locate bonobo and elephant populations, study forest habitat and factors that influence bonobo distribution, and analyze how human activities (hunting) impact wildlife populations. Our surveys not only compile baseline information about key animal species and habitat but also identify areas of poaching. These data directly inform the ICCN and help park guards direct their anti-poaching activities.
Poaching for profit is the leading threat to bonobos, elephants and all wildlife in DRC. The lucrative ivory and bushmeat trade in combination with an influx of illegal weapons and development pressures from Asian countries are placing a great demand on wildlife resources.
To help the ICCN win the war against poaching, we provide training and material support to park guards so they can carry out often dangerous anti-poaching operations. We train them how to navigate through thick forest conditions, collect data on wildlife, and monitor illegal human entry into the park. The BCBI builds patrol posts for Salonga guards and provides them with field equipment, communication devices, and logistical support. The Etate Patrol Post, fully supported by BCBI, is one of the most active and advanced patrol posts in the park. At Etate, guards conduct frequent, systematic patrols covering a 1,000 km2 area to protect about 1,000 bonobos and a remnant herd of forest elephants.
Communities around the Salonga live at a subsistence level. Villages lack primary schools and adult illiteracy is common. Improving the quality of life of local people and increasing their skills may ultimately reduce unsustainable use of wildlife and forest products. Towards this end, BCBI supports village primary schools and adult literacy classes. In a country stricken with abject poverty, these programs offer hope and opportunity.