May 29, 2009

DR Congo Announces More Protected Land For Bonobos

The environment ministry in the Democratic Republic of Congo has sanctioned land for the protection of indigenous bonobos.

The environment ministry announced Friday that it "has created the Kokolopori Bonobos reserve in the Equator province across 4,800 square kilometers (1,853 square miles) of land," said Cosma Wilungula, director general of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN).

The reserve is home to an estimated 1,000 bonobos, said Wilungula. Experts closely monitor five bonobo families, and three of them are "comfortable with human contact," he added.

Bonobos are endangered great apes that are only found in the Congo. Along with the chimpanzee, bonobos are the closest extant relatives to humans. They reside in a region south of the Congo River, which separates them from their chimpanzee ancestors.

The bonobo population has dropped from 100,000 in 1980 to about 20,000 due to poaching activity in the region.

The AFP reported the ministry's announcement based on a May 12 decree that claims the reserve will protect and support biodiversity as well as carbon storage that will help fund local community development projects.

The decree stated that the introduction of new species, hunting or mining is expressly forbidden in the protected region.

The government announced in 2007 the protection of 30,570 square kilometers in the central Kasai province to conserve bonobos.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has 71 protected areas, including seven national parks and 63 nature reserves and hunting areas, said Wilungula.