Threats to Bonobo Conservation in the Lake Tumba Lake Maindombe Hinterland

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Large group size and high density of bonobos in the southern portion of the Lake Tumba - Lake Maindombe hinterland should not detract from the fact that they, and many other wildlife species, are threatened by logging activities and hunting for subsistence and the bushmeat trade (Inogwabini 2005b).

Logging Activities in the Area

The most important threat that the bonobos of the Lake Tumba - Lake Maindombe hinterland face is habitat loss induced by logging (Inogwabini 2005b). Most of the suitable habitat of the bonobos in the southern block of the area is almost entirely within logging concessions. Fourteen of the fifteen logging concessions of the landscape are in the southern section; even the 19 km2 small scientific reserve of Mabli, created in 1948 under IUCN Category Ib, is now within a concession with an established permit that allows logging activities to commence any time the owner wills. Mabali was logged until 1975, but another cycle is expected soon. Our research teams encountered timber inventory teams that were working in the scientific reserve to enumerate extractable trees.

Logging activities will result in devastating effects on wildlife species because the outcome will be loss of habitat. Roads built to move timber from forests to the lake and rivers pose significant threats to bonobos and other wildlife species. Furthermore, camps to house logging workers and the sawing activities threaten wildlife species because settlement camps facilitate human demographic growth and movement in relatively remote areas, and lead to an increase in commercial hunting. Timber exploitation in the Lake Tumba - Lake Maindombe hinterland is focused on Mellitia laurentii (Wenge, a hard black wood species). Because it is logistically difficult to extract timber from other locations in DRC, many logging companies have recently rushed into the Lake Tumba - Lake Maindombe hinterland, which is relatively easy to access through an intricate river network. Most of these concessions were acquired after the 2002 moratorium was imposed on allocating new concessions. With the exception of two logging companies who are at the very early stages of the timber certification process, there are no management plans for the concessions.

Bushmeat Trade

The second most important threat facing bonobos of the Lake Tumba - Lake Maindombe hinterland is hunting; one of the human activities that represents the greatest threat to the maintenance of the biomes and wildlife species that reside therein (Bennett and Robinson 2000, Bowen-Jones and Pendry 1999). Human impact is essentially of two kinds: direct off-take of wildlife species for food or for cultural use. Off-take is for local subsistence or for commerce feeding into large markets in major towns such as Kinshasa, Mbandaka, Bikoro, and Inongo. In colonial times and shortly thereafter, there was trade in agricultural products (coffee, palm oil, rubber), which supported local people. However, after nationalization of the economy in 1972, the market system broke down and seriously affected the transport infrastructure, leading to a severe decline in agricultural activities across the entire region. After several years of economic and political chaos, hunting and fishing have become the only way for most people to gain monetary income.

Despite difficulties in transportation, the bushmeat trade has become an extraordinarily organized activity, promoted by social hierarchies based in major towns. The intensive demand for bushmeat to supply Kinshasa, Mbandaka, Inongo and other markets, spread over the region and depleted wildlife populations from many parts of the landscape. Data collected from local communities (Colom et al. 2006) using a combination of interviews and focus groups, indicated a mean annual monetary income of about $300/working adult generated by the bushmeat trade at the village level. This is compared to $60/working adult as the mean annual revenue for an administrative paid job in the area between Maindombe and the town of Mbandaka. In major towns such as Bikoro and Mbandaka, bushmeat is highly priced and generated incomes are consequently increased ten-fold (Colom et al. 2006), stimulating the bushmeat trade in the region.

Colom et al. (2006) also found an important trade in live animals involving diurnal animals, included bonobos, golden-bellied mangabeys, Angolan-pied colo-bus and birds such grey parrots, diverse species of eagles, and kingfishers. For example, all bonobos confiscated either in Mbandaka (4 individuals in 2005; WWF unpublished data), Bikoro (1 individual; WWF unpublished data), Kinshasa and Paris (1 individual, Jane Goodall Institute 2005) in the recent past had been captured for the pet trade. The pet trade has had an impact that is even more intractable than the bushmeat trade because this involves different participants, including the international market. As in other locations in the country, hunting pressure on wildlife has quadrupled with the persistent insecurity and war in the DRC (Aveling et al. 2003), because access to ammunition, automatic weapons, and other war paraphernalia has become prolific.

Increasing Human Population

The large number of tribes across the DRC comprises a variety of cultures. Regardless of how different tribes value the bonobos, the alarming human population growth (3.8% per year; INS 1984) is likely to spark human-wildlife conflict. Human population growth may reach limits beyond what can be supported by natural resources alone. Indeed the decline in fish stocks and other wildlife species may parallel the increase of humans in the region (Inogwabini and Zanga 2006). This will affect bonobo conservation as the human demand for land and other natural resources will certainly affect land that otherwise would be reserved for bonobos. Therefore, sound natural resources management will have to team up with family planning programs in the region in order to address this vexing issue.

Fire as Management Tool in Cattle Raising Concessions

Within the habitat types of the region, the savannah patches are an interesting ecotone displaying higher species diversity, including bonobos. The savannas have been exploited for cattle ranching since the late 1950s, with fire as a management tool. In order to have young shoots of savannah grasses and herbs as abundant as possible to feed the cow herds, the management of ORGAMAN has been burning three times a year to ensure that palatable herbs will always be available. This activity has maintained the current savannah-forest mosaic system.

Fire has been used in similar habitats in the region to maintain intact landscape mosaics. Satellite data from the Department of Geography, University of Maryland (UMD) and Observatoire Satellitale des ForĂȘts d'Afrique Centrale (OSFAC) indicate that fire is most intense in the region from July through September, which corresponds to the long dry season. This has increased over the last five years due to the increase in numbers of cattle ranched. Preliminary results from an on-going fruit phenology study at the Malebo site (Territory of Bolobo) indicate that fruits are scarce during the long dry season, which corresponds with evidence of bono-bos venturing into the savannahs to cross between forests (unpublished report to WWF 2006).

Fire may impede the bonobos foraging, as the situation infers. Thus, there is a need to develop a sound fire management system along with a gallery forest conservation program that takes into account different elements, including water quality and watershed management, human population needs in agricultural lands, logging activities, and cattle-raising necessities.

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