A while back I wrote about the progress being made on the bonobo research and conservation center in our Congo Heartland. I'm joining a 15 person expedition organized by Jef Dupain, director of the Heartland, to visit the site, check on construction as it nears completion, install a VSAT internet connection, and prepare some media buzz for its opening.
I spent two days in Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo, and had the chance to visit Lola ya Bonobo, a sanctuary for orphaned bonobos - and one of AWF's partners here. Founded by Claudine Andre in 1994, Lola is home to almost 60 bonobos who live in 75 acres of primary forest.
Beyond rehabilitating orphanted bonobos (usually confiscated from the black market pet trade), Lola has a strong outreach and education program for schools. "Education is the first step to conservation," Claudine told me at the sanctuary. "Congolese kids are proud of their country's biodiversity. We are helping to spread that pride." Each year 19,000 school kids come and get to see bonobos up close.
AWF has been lending technical support (mapping, vegetation analysis, etc.) to the program, which aims to reintroduce bonobos back into the wild in 2009.
"Jef is amazing in working with communities [in the Congo Heartland] to know and appreciate bonobos," Claudine said. "I went to the forest with him and it was easy to see signs of conservation."
Tomorrow we take two pirogues (giant wooden canoes made from single tree trunks) 300 kilometers up the Maringa and Lopori rivers to get to the site of the bonobo center. I can't wait to see Claudine's praise in action, and hopefully to catch a glimpse of these incredible apes in the wild.
P.S. - It might not sound like the best time to visit the DR Congo. But I'm about 850km from the fighting in the east. I'm safe, I think.
Paul began with AWF based in Nairobi for a year, before moving to Washington DC. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at The Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Paul received his B.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Management at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. He is a member of the Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leadership initiative and is working on a conservation campaign to combat the illegal trade of Asian pangolins. Paul enjoys photography, travel, hikes in the woods, music, and nyama choma.
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