Bonobo (Pan paniscus) Conservation Strategy 2012–2022

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Figure 3. Map of rangewide suitable conditions for bonobos as modelled by Hickey et al. 2012 (model reproduced with permission). Grey shade indicates negligible opportunity for bonobo occurrence 

and tends to correspond with the following landcover categories: open water, rural complex, other (see Fig. 2)

Figure 4. Map of all types of bonobo signs from survey data submitted to the A.P.E.S. database and location of the four bonobo strongholds


Southern block (Salonga)

This block roughly corresponds to the western part of the COMIFAC/CBFP Salonga-Lukenie-

Sankuru landscape. Located astride the provinces of Equateur, Bandundu, Kasaï Occidentale and 

Kasaï Orientale, this huge landscape covers approximately 104,140 km² extending across the 

Salonga, Yenge, Loile, Luilaka, Lokolo, Lukenie and Sankuru river basins. Two protected areas are 

located in this landscape:

•  Salonga National Park (33,350 km²), two blocks separated by a corridor. This is the 

second largest forested national park in the world.

•  Bososandja Domaine Resérve Naturelle (340 km²), an area of forest-savanna mosaic. 

Average human population density is relatively low, estimated at 2.4 inhabitants/km². Slash-and-

burn agriculture, fishing, hunting (subsistence and commercial) and collection of other non-timber 

forest products (NTFPs) are their main activities. Logging concessions cover approximately 25% 

of the landscape.

Within the framework of USAID’s Central African Regional Programme for the Environment (CARPE) 

programme, conservation partners are working with local communities and the DRC government 

to elaborate a land-use plan that is intended to reconcile biodiversity conservation and sustainable 

development for local communities. This work is proceeding slowly due to the huge size of this 

zone, and the complex socioeconomic and institutional context.

A number of surveys have been carried out in Salonga National Park (SNP). Estimates of the 

number of bonobos in SNP include 19,000 (Reinartz et al. 2006) and 7,100–20,400 individuals 

(Grossman et al. 2008). However, poaching pressure has been persistently high since these esti-

mates were made, with declines of up to 70% in bonobo numbers in some areas of the park 

recorded during a 2010 repeat survey of the Lokofa bloc (Liengola et al. 2010). Additionally, recent 

surveys in the corridor between the two blocks of the park showed that bonobos were rare or 

absent within 10 km of villages and completely absent in most of the northern two-thirds of the 

corridor (Maisels et al. 2009, 2010).

Commercial hunting for bushmeat in this area is intense, in part because of the heavily armed 

poachers coming in search of ivory. Unlike the other strongholds, SNP still harbours a remnant 

elephant population that attracts hunters, often backed by the military, to areas such as Lokofa. 

Hunters penetrate into the heart of the landscape to reach the most intact wildlife populations. 

However, in more remote areas or where there is adequate and enhanced guard protection within 

An elephant bath on the Yenge 

River, northern block of SNP 


© Gay Reinartz/ZSM


the park, bonobos can still be found at relatively high densities (Guislain & Reinartz 2010/2011). 

To control the upsurge in elephant poaching and the proliferation of military weapons in the 

region, government armed forces (FARDC) recently undertook a joint operation with ICCN, called 

‘Operation Bonobo’, which successfully returned control of the park to ICCN. Since SNP rep-

resents the largest existing expanse of legally-protected and intact bonobo habitat, with a self-

sustaining bonobo population, protection of this park and it’s wildlife is of paramount importance. 

The Iyaelima people, who live in the southern sector of SNP, have a taboo against killing bono-

bos (Thompson et al. 2008), but most ethnic groups do not have such taboos, and the species 

is frequently found in the bushmeat trade. Even in areas occupied by the Iyaelima, poaching by 

outsiders (who have no taboo) has begun, due to the very high demand for bushmeat in the mining 

towns to the south.

Western block (Lac Tumba-Lac Mai Ndombe)

This block corresponds to the DRC sector of the COMIFAC/CBFP Lac Télé-Lac Tumba landscape. 

It extends over more than 72,000 km² and includes the Tumba and Mai Ndombe lakes. Seasonally-

flooded and swamp forests cover 60–65% of the area, while the southern parts are covered with 

savanna-forest mosaic. This vast wetland is part of a transboundary Ramsar agreement with the 

Republic of Congo. The DRC sector (65,700 km²) is the largest Ramsar site in the world.

Excluding the city of Mbandaka (with >500,000 inhabitants), the human population density is 6–18 

people/km². As in the other blocks, their main activities are agriculture, fishing, hunting and collec-

tion of NTFPs. Commercial poaching to supply urban bushmeat markets is intense, as the markets 

in Mbandaka, Kinshasa and Brazzaville are easily accessed by the Congo River. Logging conces-

sions, located largely in the south, cover approximately 40% of the landscape. The terra firma 

forests are mainly old secondary forests that have been logged in the past.

Within the framework of the CARPE programme, a land-use plan is being developed, which 

includes three protected areas, 13 CBNRM areas and six resource extraction zones. The proposed 

protected areas are:

•  Tumba-Lediima Natural Reserve (7,500 km²)

•  Ngiri Biosphere Reserve (524 km² created in January 2011), with no bonobos but a 

small population of chimpanzees (being located on the right bank of the Congo River)

•  Mabali Scientific Reserve (2.6 km²), under CREF management

Surveys conducted in the Lac Tumba landscape from 2001 to 2005 confirmed the presence of 

bonobos in this region (Inogwabini et al. 2007, 2008). The population in the Malebo-Ngoumi area, 

a forest-savanna mosaic habitat, was estimated at around 2,300 (Inogwabini et al. 2007). The high 

density estimates from areas within the Lac Tumba-Lac Mai Ndombe hinterland have been inter-

preted as being linked to local taboo of the Batéké people against the killing and consumption of 

bonobos (Inogwabini et al. 2008). 

In 2004 and 2005, accords were signed and boundaries delimited to create three community-man-

aged reserves at Botuali, Mbie-Mokele and Nkosso, totalling approximately 2,200 km². In addi-

tion, ‘Bonobo Committees’ were established in 37 villages (groupements) in the areas where local 

people have agreed to protect bonobos.

Eastern block (Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba, TL2)

Most of the Eastern block (apart from the Sankuru Reserve, see ‘Southern block’, above) is not 

part of a COMIFAC/CBFP landscape, because it is only since 2007 that surveys have highlighted 

the biological importance of the area (ICCN 2010). Covering approximately 20,000 km², the TL2 

landscape is located astride three provinces (Orientale, Maniema and Kasaï Orientale) stretching 

from the Tshuapa River basin in the west to the Lualaba (Congo) River in the east. The western 

part of TL2 is contiguous with the Sankuru Natural Reserve in Kasaï Orientale. Outside the main 

cities, human density in this block is low at less than one inhabitant/km². Large parts of the zone 

are totally uninhabited. The main livelihood activities are slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture, 

hunting, seasonal fishing and artisanal logging. No industrial logging or mining operations exist in 

this area. One existing and one proposed protected area are located within this block:

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