Battle for Bonobos

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

Shannon_W1aBonobo? Isn’t that a drum? No, no, those are bongos. Maybe it’s some type of exotic banana Oreo? It was only the second day of Zoo InternQuest, and I was excited to meet with Kim Livingstone, Lead Primate Keeper at the San Diego Zoo. When Ms. Livingstone announced that we would be learning about bonobos, that excitement quickly dissolved to confusion. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what a bonobo was. It turns out, I am not the only one. The world is widely unaware of this adorable ape from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, and other primate species that greatly need our help. Despite conservation efforts, this unawareness, along with deforestation and habitat loss, are the leading reasons why many primates are going extinct. Luckily, there are people like Ms. Livingstone to fight for animals like the bonobo.

Working with organizations like Lola Ya Bonobo and the San Diego Zoo has allowed Ms. Livingstone to aid in primate conservation efforts. In the DCR, and many other undeveloped nations, poachers hunt adult primates for meat and attempt to sell infant primates as pets. Lola Ya Bonobo is a conservation organization located in the DCR, that rehabilitates these orphan bonobos and attempts to stop poachers. Lola Ya Bonobo also builds schools to help educate the people of the DCR, and hires poachers to save bonobos instead of kill them. Ms. Livingstone explained that education and awareness are the strongest forms of protection for endangered animals. The more people know, the easier it is for them to help. Often times, most people do not realize that their lifestyle (I.e. hunting primates, burning wood, polluting water sources) is affecting the ecosystems and eventually the economies around them. Rare animals like the bonobo are a huge draw for tourists. Once the animals are gone, the tourists will stop coming, and their money will no longer support the local businesses. Programs like Lola Ya Bonobo are essential in changing bad habits and giving the animals, and people, the best chance for survival in their native countries. Much closer to home, the San Diego Zoo hosts a very successful breeding program, or Species Survival Program, for bonobos and other endangered primates. Ms. Livingstone hopes to one day be able to go to the DCR and see bonobos in their natural habitat. In order for there to be any bonobos left to see, we must make efforts locally and globally to ensure the survival of this species.

So, the big question is: How can we help an animal that lives on the other side of the world? First, raise awareness. The more people know, the more they can help. Habitat loss and pollution are global issues that will only be solved by everyone working together. Second, in the words of Ms. Livingstone, “Think global, buy local.” Shipping products across the world or even just the country, can have tremendous impacts on the environment. Fossil fuels pollute the air, many materials such as paper and wood are wasted in packaging, and buying foreign products does nothing to stimulate the local economy. Before ordering something from out of state, check to see if it can be purchased locally. If not, ask yourself if it is really necessary. Finally, buy sustainable products. Replace items that contain ingredients that are not environmentally friendly and always check if the packaging is recyclable. For example, products like palm oil are greatly contributing to habitat loss in South East Asia, negatively affecting orangutans and other endangered species. Acres upon acres of forest are cut down and replaced with palm farms. This leaves orangutans, and thousands of other animals with nowhere to live, breed, or forage. Not buying this product is the only way to stop the habitat loss and send a message to the producers.

After meeting with Ms. Livingstone, I have learned many important things. I now know that a Bonobo is an ape native to the DCR, and like most primate species, they are in grave danger. Conservation is a group effort, and we are all responsible to help. We have the power to demand products that do not require the displacement of an entire ecosystem. We have the power to demand change.

Riley, Conservation Team
Week One, Fall 2015


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