After a three-hour ride on the back of a 125cc motorcycle from Djolu, a small town in AWF’s Congo landscape in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we came across a boisterous group of boys rushing up a trail through the dense woods carrying machetes and full of banter. They were without adult supervision, bare-chested, barefoot and barely bigger than the sharp, threatening instruments they carry.
Tall trees, year-round warmth, friendly faces…and bonobos as far as the eye can see. This could be the front cover of a flyer pitching a world-class holiday destination. Behind the large, stylishly designed text in Times New Roman or Verdana sits a unique photograph: an upward camera shot of a clear, blue sky beyond a dense canopy, with streams of sunlight reaching through the thickness.
Economic and social benefits for people local to conservation areas are as important to AWF’s work as protecting habitats. In fact, it can be said that they are inextricable. For, when landscape residents lack sustainable livelihood opportunities, they fall back on the forest for nearly all their primary needs. This is even truer in areas that are remote and isolated logistically.
Longtime AWF followers might remember Nakedi Maputla, the leopard researcher working out of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The intrepid South African recently became our Congo landscape ecologist, where he is working to protect bonobos, forest elephants, and, yes, also leopards.