CITES: Appendix I
(What is CITES?)
IUCN Red List: P. paniscus: EN
(What is Red List?)
Key: EN = Endangered
(Click on species name to see IUCN Red List entry, including detailed status assessment information.)
Photo: Max Planck Institut
The only true enemies of bonobos are humans. Threats to bonobo survival
include hunting and habitat destruction (Malenky et al. 1989; de Waal 1997).
While there are taboos against hunting bonobos in some communities
surrounding their range, they are hunted as meat by other communities.
The pet trade also jeopardizes bonobo survival in the wild. This
practice is particularly harmful because in order to obtain infants for
sale, poachers must kill the mothers. Poaching is especially prevalent
when researchers are not present at study sites (Malenky et al. 1989).
Habitat destruction in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is due to commercial logging, clearing
land for agriculture, food acquisition by human communities, and human
settlement (Malenky et al. 1989). Underlying most of the threats to
bonobos in the wild is the volatile political climate of DRC which
directly affects the Congolese people and both directly and indirectly
affects the apes (Thompson-Handler et al. 1995).
CONSERVATION THREATS & POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS
Threat: Human Induced Habitat Loss and Degradation
Habitat loss and degradation due to commercial logging, subsistence
usage of forest products, and re-emigration into the forest by local
human populations is prevalent in DRC and greatly threatens bonobo
populations (Dupain et al. 2000). Large-scale commercial logging is
responsible for more damage than simply removal of forest cover; some of
its byproducts include loss of biodiversity, climate change,
desertification, and watershed degradation (Rowe et al. 1992). These
indirect environmental consequences are of serious concern for bonobo
populations, even at well-established research sites that exist on
logging concessions (Oates 1995; Thompson-Handler 1995). There is
continuing concern that the Congolese government will begin to rely more
heavily on timber extraction as its key economic opportunity and depend
on forest resources for fiscal development. Because of these future
plans, commercial logging is the perceived to be the largest threat to
bonobos in DRC over the long-term (Reinartz & Bila Isia 2001).
More ubiquitous as a cause of habitat loss and degradation is the
conversion of forest to agricultural lands as well as collection of
firewood for subsistence usage and for sale in urban centers
(Thompson-Handler et al. 1995). Profits from agricultural products
traditionally harvested in semi-rural areas and sold in markets in urban
centers have plummeted due to the deterioration of the economy, roads,
and the river transport system associated with the political instability
(Dupain et al. 2000). While this may temporarily mitigate habitat
destruction due to agriculture, the resulting trend is re-immigration of
local people into the forests and subsequent establishment of
semi-permanent settlements. In these establishments, people practice
small-scale cultivation and subsistence hunting as well as collection of
wood for fuel and shelter (Dupain et al. 2000; Reinartz & Bila Isia
2001). While some areas have protected status, this is merely a label
that has no meaning; a total lack of laws and enforcement creates a
climate in which people can live within the boundaries of the park and
use the natural resources without consequences (Coxe et al. 2000).
Logging threats may be temporarily mitigated, though, because of the
political instability and warfare that have plagued DRC for almost a
decade. Logging companies have ceased their activities because of the
dangers of working in a combat zone and as a result, habitat loss due to
the extraction of trees and the infrastructure associated with
unsustainable forestry techniques has ceased (Dupain et al. 2000). It
is important, though, that when lands slated for logging become
available in the future, that bonobo-friendly forestry techniques are
used. That is, low impact, sustainable logging should be the goal of
the Congolese government, especially if timber is to be the most
important export commodity and the basis of its economic viability.
With only two reserves (Salonga National Park and Luo River Scientific
Reserve) where bonobos occur and logging is prohibited, an important
goal for the future is to create more protected areas as well as
increase protection of bonobos both in and outside existing reserves
(Reinartz & Bila Isia 2001).
Unfortunately, little can be done to alleviate the impacts of habitat
loss due to subsistence agriculture and fuelwood collection at this
time. Many Congolese have been displaced and have no other economic or
even subsistence opportunities, and until there is stability in DRC,
most research has ceased and bonobo populations cannot be reliably
protected (Coxe et al. 2000).
Threat: Invasive Alien Species
There are a number of pathogenic and
parasitic diseases that affect
bonobos in the wild. Respiratory, gastrointestinal,
systemic bacterial infections can range in severity from latency to
death (Whittier et al. 2001). Salmonella, Steptococcus, and
Staphylococcus are common agents that can be found within the
environment or can be transferred between humans and bonobos (Whittier
et al. 2001). Other infectious agents that affect bonobos include
viruses (poliovirus, measles, herpes, hepatitis, Ebola, etc.), fungal
infections (ringworm), and parasites, both ectoparasitic and
(Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Schistosoma, Strongyloides,
etc.) (Whittier et al. 2001). While there may be some natural
background rate of these diseases, certainly epidemics of some could
threaten entire populations of bonobos. Unnatural exposure to these and
other diseases could lead to rapid extinction in non-immune bonobos or
very small populations of bonobos. As humans and bonobos come into
close contact because of population growth, habituation to researchers,
and hunting, the probability of disease transmission between species
increases (Butynski 2001).
At research sites, precautions should be taken to ensure minimal
exposure. This includes screening researchers and visitors, updating
vaccinations (where applicable), limiting contact, and burying human
waste (Whittier et al. 2001). Health education about zoonotic diseases
in local communities may also decrease the incidence of disease transfer
between bonobos and humans.
Threat: Harvesting (hunting/gathering)
As the population explodes in Central Africa, traditional values are
eroded as are time-honored tribal customs. This is important in the
case of the bonobo because across many tribes in DRC, it has been
traditionally taboo to hunt these apes, though that sentiment is quickly
falling by the wayside (Thompson-Handler et al. 1995; Coxe et al. 2000).
With no other economic opportunities, local people must trade bushmeat
for clothes, medicines, soap, spices, and other necessities as well as
use it as a primary protein source (Dupain & Van Elsacker 2001).
Moreover, with an active zone of military occupation bisecting the
bonobo's range, troops and displaced people consume bushmeat as a main
source of protein and rely on its sale as a source of income (Reinartz &
Bila Isia 2001).
The role of lumber companies in the bushmeat market cannot be
underestimated. They provide guns and ammunition, transportation to and
from the forests where bonobos are hunted, boats to move carcasses
between the forest and urban centers, and workers hunt, sell, and eat
the meat (Butynski 2001; Dupain & Elsacker 2001). Guns have also become
quite prolific and readily available as the civil war erupted (Coxe et
Infant bonobos are also highly prized as pets, and as adult bonobos are
killed for meat, infants are sold in markets in urban centers such as
Kinshasa. It is estimated that between five and 10 adults are killed to
capture one infant, as reproductive-aged adults are culled from the
population, the reproductive capacity of the population will dwindle
(Reinartz & Bila Isia 2001).
Foreign logging companies must be held accountable for their roles in
the bushmeat trade. Instead of facilitating the illegal hunting,
transportation, sale, and consumption of bonobos, logging companies
should provide alternate food sources for their employees and prohibit
the transportation of meat and hunting paraphenelia on company boats
(Dupain & Van Elsacker 2001).
Local communities that depend on bonobo meat for protein and as currency
to obtain necessary supplies should be provisioned with alternate food
sources and sundries by international aid organizations. Giving people
alternatives may alleviate some of the pressure on bonobo populations in
the most heavily hunted areas. Providing other economic opportunities
is another crucial factor in decreasing reliance on bushmeat. In times
of peace, this can be achieved by maintaining a strong research presence
in areas that have been traditionally used as hunting grounds (Dupain &
Van Elsacker 2001). Researchers can often provide jobs to local people
as field assistants, educators, and camp staff. They not only offer
paid work, but having locals involved in research and bonobo
conservation creates a meaningful connection between people and wildlife
that may influence their future actions (Wrangham 2001).
Educating potential buyers of infant bonobos in the markets of Congolese
urban centers is another way to decrease the market for apes as pets.
Threat: Accidental Mortality
Occasionally bonobos are ensnared in traps set for other terrestrial
mammals and are injured (Kano 1992; Coxe et al. 2000). There is little
data on the scope of this problem.
Traditionally, bonobos were revered and viewed as relatives to local
people (Coxe et al. 2000). Where they are not habituated, bonobos are
extremely shy and afraid of people (de Waal 1996). Except for where
they are hunted as food, there are no instances of human-bonobo
Threat: Changes in Native Species Dynamics
Bonobos have no known predators and as such their population size and
structure is not affected by predator-prey interactions (de Waal 1996).
At Wamba, there have been high instances of physical handicaps noted in
the study groups. Missing digits and limbs dominate those deformities
recorded, and there is some speculation that leprosy could be one of the
causes of these abnormalities (Kano 1992).
Limiting physical contact between bonobos and humans is crucial to
minimizing transfer of all diseases. In instances where it is
appropriate and the bonobos are habituated, veterinary care may also be
Threat: Intrinsic Factors
Bonobos are long-lived and mature slowly, producing few offspring over
their lifetimes, as such population growth rates are inherently slow.
Because of these qualities, disturbances can have significant affects on
overall population size (Thompson-Handler et al. 1995). Any demographic
changes are compounded by the effects of habitat fragmentation, range
restriction, and decreasing population sizes. For example, when two
populations that used to come into contact are separated by an
impassable barrier, such as a logging road, gene flow between the two
communities ceases and problems such as inbreeding depression and
subsequent fixation of deleterious alleles (Thompson-Handler et al.
1995; Coxe et al. 2000).
Efforts to decrease habitat fragmentation should be of greatest
importance. Demographic changes should be minimized, if at all
possible, by decreasing the demand for bushmeat as well as setting up
orphanages and refuges for infant bonobos confiscated in markets.
Captive breeding programs are also important and may serve as "arks" for
bonobos. It should continue to be the goal of programs to produce and
maintain viable populations ex situ.
Threat: Human Disturbance
Political instability has had deleterious effects on all life in DRC and
continues to impede bonobo conservation and research efforts. All
research has been abandoned in this area, and few reports of bonobo
populations at the most important study sites are available. In some
cases, those local people involved in the research have managed to stay
and serve as guards, though they are unable to receive any salaries from
researchers and communication is impossible. Where bonobos have been
habituated, their risk of being shot by soldiers and hunters is great,
and research assistants have little means to protect these apes from
such persecution (Coxe et al. 2000).
There are few options as long as the area remains insecure for both
foreign and domestic assistance and involvement (Coxe et al. 2000).
LINKS TO MORE ABOUT CONSERVATION
- Why are We Eating Bonobos? Can We Save Africa's Vast Wildernesses from Destruction? (National Geographic; October 14, 2012)
- Conservationist devotes life to bonobos (Marion Star; December 5, 2010)
- Going Ape in Central Africa: Meeting Our Closest Cousins in the Near-Wild Within Easy Reach of Major Cities (Huffington Post; October 12, 2010)
- Into the Congo: saving bonobos means aiding left-behind communities, an interview with Gay Reinartz (Mongabay; September 23, 2010)
- Bonobos going wild (Charlotte Observer; July 6, 2009)
- Reintroducing Bonobo Apes Into The Wild: Researchers To Monitor Progress (ScienceDaily; June 15, 2009)
- New rainforest reserve in Congo benefits bonobos and locals (Mongabay; May 25, 2009)
- Massive New Rainforest Reserve Established in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Yubanet; November 16, 2007)
- Best Practice Guidelines for the Re-introduction of Great Apes (IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group)
- 'Protected' Congo forest is logged regardless (New Scientist; April 11, 2007)
- Illegal Loggers Mutilating Congolese Forests (Environment News Service; February 28, 2007)
- Trust's donations save apes worldwide (Des Moines Register; December 15, 2006)
- Monkey business (Carte Blanche; October 29, 2006)
- Great Ape Trust Awards $22,000 in Conservation Grants (E-Wire; August 22, 2006)
- Bush-meat traders threaten Nigeria's chimps (Georgia Straight, Canada; November 3, 2005)
- Woods Hole Research Center scientist part of international initiatives to save the great apes (EurekAlert; October 11, 2005)
- New Conservation Groups Formed at World Wilderness Congress (Environment News Service; October 10, 2005)
- Conservationists seek to protect apes (Associated Press; July 27, 2005)
- Expert highlights mobile phone threat to great apes (Australian Broadcasting Company; March 10, 2005)
- Study links Ebola outbreaks to animal carcasses (EurekAlert; February 14, 2005)
- Pygmy chimpanzees on the brink of extinction (Independent Online, South Africa; January 10, 2005)
- Fences 'can help apes' survival' (BBC News; May 5, 2004)
- African apes being eaten into extinction (Sunday Herald, UK; October 11, 2003)
- African `bushmeat' trade raises health, conservation fears (Taipei Times; August 25, 2003)
- Balancing Wildlife Conservation with Human Survival (Inter Press Service News Agency; October 11, 2003)
- Bonobos' threat: hungry humans (Christian Science Monitor; June 7, 2001)
- Dire Outlook for Many Primates (BBC; May 12, 2000)
- Eating apes imperils species, spreads AIDS (ABC Science Online, Australia; September 15, 2003)
- Great apes in peril (BBC News; May 20, 2001)
- Growing demand for 'bushmeat' threatens great apes (CNN; August 11, 1999)
- Last chance to save great apes from extinction (Guardian Unlimited; May 21, 2001)
- Links for all species
ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED IN Pan paniscus CONSERVATION
Content last modified: December 1, 2010
Written by Kristina Cawthon Lang. Reviewed by Frans de Waal.
Cite this page as:
Cawthon Lang KA. 2010 December 1. Primate Factsheets: Bonobo (Pan paniscus) Conservation . <http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/bonobo/cons>. Accessed 2016 June 26.