Ster­ling ac­count of con­ser­va­tion ef­fort to save en­dan­gered rain­for­est bono­bos

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE -

cre­ate three times as much govern­men­trec­og­nized pro­tected area as all the big­ger non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions in the DRC com­bined. But it is an up­hill strug­gle. War and poverty have af­flicted the DRC, ex­ert­ing pres­sure on bonobo pop­u­la­tions and habi­tat. Peo­ple dis­placed by war eked out sub­sis­tence in the rain for­est, hunt­ing bono­bos in or­der to sur­vive.

There are laws against great ape hunt­ing through­out Africa, but few peo­ple know about them, and they are dif­fi­cult to en­force.

What suc­cess BCI has en­joyed can be at­trib­uted to its phi­los­o­phy of con­ser­va­tion.

Rather than en­ter­ing an area and im­pos­ing change, BCI seeks to forge re­la­tion­ships and build coali­tions among lo­cal peo­ple and their lead­ers.

En­cour­ag­ing the Con­golese to em­brace con­ser­va­tion of­ten in­volves a quid pro quo: BCI pro­vides schools, health care and al­ter­na­tive sources of liveli­hood in ex­change for the Con­golese pur­su­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and pro­tect­ing the wildlife in their en­vi­ron­ment.

For ex­am­ple, in pro­tected ar­eas, BCI hires lo­cal peo­ple to serve as track­ers and “eco-guards,” pro­vid­ing a much needed source of in­come.

The goal of the BCI ap­proach is to give lo­cal peo­ple a vested in­ter­est in con­serv­ing the flora and fauna of the rain for­est. It is hoped con­ser­va­tion projects will be­come self-repli­cat­ing, with lo­cal peo­ple in­creas­ingly as­sum­ing the role of cus­to­di­an­ship.

There is also con­sid­er­able po­ten­tial for eco­tourism, which, if re­al­ized, would cre­ate a con­ser­va­tion-based econ­omy.

Thus the fate of the bonobo seems to hinge on BCI’s suc­cess in in­cen­tiviz­ing lo­cal pop­u­la­tions to em­brace the value of con­ser­va­tion.

Béchard, by the way, was born in B.C. to a Cana­dian fa­ther and Amer­i­can mother. He grew up mostly in Mon­treal and won the Com­mon­wealth Writ­ers’ Prize for best first book in 2007, the novel Van­dal Love.

It is too early to say if BCI will be able to save the bonobo, but Béchard has de­picted its in­no­va­tive ap­proach in a nar­ra­tive that il­lus­trates the chal­lenges of con­ser­va­tion in Africa.

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