Lonoa: The Establishment of a Permanent Field Site for Behavioural Research on Bonobos in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve

Martin Surbeck1,2, Sally Coxe2, & Albert Lotana Lokasola2,3
1 Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany
2 Bonobo Conservation Initiative, 2701 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 702, Washington DC 20008, US
3 3 Vie Sauvage, Avenue Pangi 5, commune Ma Campagne, Kinshasa, DRC

The Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve was officially estab­lished by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) government in May 2009 as a community-based nature reserve encompassing over 4,850 km² (Almquist et al. 2010; Figures 1 and 2). Locally initiated and managed, it harbors a large population of bonobos, who are and have been traditionally protected by a taboo of the local Bongando people against hunting them (Lingomo & Kimura 2009). The management of the reserve is conducted by the local population and the conservation initiative “Vie Sauvage” (VS), supported by the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI).

Figure 1. Active bonobo research sites with at least semi-habituated bonobo communities.

Figure 2. Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve. Approximate home ranges of the two study communities are shown in dotted circles.

Efforts to follow bonobos in the northern part of the reserve, near the village of Yetee, were initiated in 2005 by VS and BCI, which had been committed to establishing longitudinal research on bonobos and had commenced ongoing support of local people to track the Ekalakala bonobo community (Figure 2). In 2010, the tracking extended to a second, neighboring bonobo community, Nkokoalongo. Until 2016, both communities had been followed on a more or less regular schedule, but were subject to only a limited amount of formal scientific work. Dr. Alex Georgiev did some work in the ranging area of the Ekalakala community, collecting fecal samples during 2006 and 2007. These samples were included in a number of publications on malaria and micro biome (Liu et al. 2010; Liu et al. 2014; Ahuka-Mundeke et al. 2016; Moeller et al. 2016; Wroblewski et al. 2017). Dr. Deborah Moore commenced behavioural ecological research at the site in 2014 with the intention of establishing a longitudinal study, but unfortunately was curtailed after 4 months. During her stay, she reorganized the habituation procedure for both communities and made some initial behavioural observations, including an incidence of maternal cannibalism (Tokuyama et al. 2017).

After MS’s reconnaissance trip in 2015, he established a permanent research camp named after the nearby river, Lonoa (N0.41716°, E22.97552°), in the beginning of 2016 with the help of the Max Plank Institute, VS and BCI. The camp is situated approximately 4 km from the nearest village, Yetee (Figure 1). A network of existing paths and standardized transects allows access to an area of 50 km², which comprises large parts of the ranges of the two habituated bonobo communities. The study area consists mainly of primary heterogeneous forest with very few swampy areas. The bonobos of the Ekalakala community also range occasionally in secondary forests close to the local settlements. An initial botanical survey to describe the forest types and composition has been conducted in collaboration with the University of Kisangani, and a floristic comparison with other bonobo study sites is part of an ongoing study.

While hunting is not allowed in large parts of the study area, the use of the forest is shared with the local people, whose primary activities there are collecting caterpillars and mushrooms in their respective seasons. Due to the close proximity of human settlements, animal densities are rather low compared, for example, to the LuiKotale bonobo study site at the border of Salonga National Park (Hohmann & Fruth 2003). However, initial results of camera-trapping indicate the occurrence of several species of duikers including blue duiker (Cephalophus monticula), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus nigrifrons), bay duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis) and Peter’s duiker (Cephalophus callipygus), and monkeys including red-tailed monkeys (Cercopithecus ascanius), Wolf’s monkey (Cercopithecus wolfi) and De Brazza’s monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus). Furthermore, there are rare sightings via camera traps of red riverhog (Potamochoerus porcus), sitatunga (Traelaphus spekei), aardvark (Orycteropus afer), tree pangolin (Phataginus tricuspis), and golden cat (Felis aurata). Combining the results from the ongoing camera trap survey with the sightings made during an US Fish and Wildlife Service funded survey conducted in 2011–2012 will facilitate better estimates of wildlife diversity, abundance and its changes.

After fieldwork began in 2016, a team of at least two people has followed each of the two neighboring communities daily from nest to nest. From March 2016 to July 2017, the average number of monthly nest-to-nest follows was 28 for Ekalakala, and 27 for Nkokoalongo. At this stage, the individuals of both bonobo communities are well habituated to the presence of observers, allowing for behavioural studies that require close range observations of focal individuals. All individuals in both communities were identified and named by the end of 2016. The Ekalakala community consisted of 3 adult and subadult males, 5 parous and 1 nulliparous females, and 5 immature individuals. The Nkokoalongo community consisted of 10 adult and subadult males, 15 parous and 1 nulliparous female, and 15 immature individuals.

While research on bonobos at Kokolopori is still in an early phase, the site has great potential not only to explore behavioural variations within the species due to a different habitat as compared to the long-term research sites of Wamba (Furuichi et al. 2012) and LuiKotale (Hohmann & Fruth 2003), but also to address questions concerning relationships between communities with largely overlapping areas. Given the well-established positive impact of long-term research sites on conservation efforts (e.g., Pusey et al. 2007, Campbell et al. 2011), the presence of a long-term research project in the protected site gives added hope that the bonobo population is relatively safe from poaching for bush-meat and timber exploitation. However, due to the proximity to human settlements, there is a need for constant vigilance.


We thank the Max Planck Society for providing the funding for the research at Lonoa; Bienvenu Mupenda, Claude Baombo, Leonard Nkanga, Axel Martìnez Ruiz, Maëlle Lemaire, Rodolphe Violleau and Claudia Wilke for their help in local negotiations, constructions and habituation of the bonobos; all members of BCI and VS for their helpful support during various stages of the project. Nearly 15 years of tracking, monitoring, and habituating the bonobos by the local teams supported by BCI and VS enabled gave us an enormous head start. Our special thanks to the late Deborah Moore for her efforts to initiate a long term research project on the bonobos at Lonoa; we wish she were still there to work with us.


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