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Publish Date: October 2013
Empty Hands, Open Arms
The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral
BY Deni Ellis Béchard
When acclaimed author Deni Béchard learned of the last living bonobos—matriarchal great apes that are, alongside chimpanzees, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom—he was astonished. How could we accept the disappearance of this majestic species, along with the rainforest it calls home?
As he looked more closely, Béchard discovered that one relatively small organization, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), has done more to save bonobos than a number of far larger organizations. In contrast to many traditional conservation groups, BCI does not impose a system on Congolese communities. It approaches conservation as a process of exchange, in which the rainforest’s people teach conservationists to understand the local culture and ecosystem. BCI then partners with village leaders, helping them strengthen their communities and address the unemployment and lack of education that lead to the hunting of bonobos. The result is a truly postcolonial model of conservation. And because the local people feel that it emerges from their culture, they replicate its projects independently.
The struggle to prevent the extinction of bonobos is far from easy, to be sure. The Congo has been devastated by war and aggressive resource extraction, and its people are often skeptical of foreign intervention. But Béchard’s moving account—based on travels in the Congo and hundreds of interviews—reminds us that poverty does not equate to ignorance, that change requires more than wealth and power, and that only through collaboration can we make conservation go viral.
BEYOND THE BOOK
See footage from Béchards travels and hear him describe his new book in this video:
OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR:
"Buy this book, and you will discover a seed of hope in our time's garden of despair."—Dale Peterson, author of The Moral Lives of Animals and Jane Goodall: the Woman who Redefined Man
"Readers of this book will be entertained and moved by Deni Béchard's stories about this remarkable endangered and irreplaceable species and those dedicating their lives to saving them. On top of this, they will be informed and enlightened about the Congo, its lush forests, its tragic history, and its peoples' struggle to build a sustainable future."—Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, Sacred Pleasure, and The Real Wealth of Nations
"It is a story that movingly illuminates the time we live in, a tale of an emblematic struggle in which the fate of all of us and our future on this planet are at stake."—Bruce Rich, author of Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development & To Uphold the World: The Message of Ashoka and Kautilya for the 21st Century
"A vivid, inspiring book, imbued with Bechard’s keen eye for detail."—Maisonneuve
"When author Deni Béchard discovered bonobos shared almost 99 percent of human DNA, and based their relationships on cooperation and collaboration, he knew he had to write about them."—Independent European Daily Express