Positive Action

Banya and baby

As an education officer at Twycross Zoo, I always include a conservation message within the sessions that I deliver. This might involve a broad topic – like deforestation, or I might focus on something really specific – like the hunting of elephants for ivory. In either case there needs to be an explanation of the threat, an indication of the actions that organisations (like Twycross Zoo and its partners) can take and finally some kind of personal actions that they can take at home. I’ll probably include more of my case studies later on – but I thought that I’d start with my favourite.

My favourite case study at the moment is the bonobo (Pan paniscus). Bonobos are a great ape species, most closely related to chimpanzees and they are a great case study because they have fascinating behaviour, Twycross is the only UK zoo to hold them and they are Endangered.

The main threats facing bonobos are deforestation (and loss of habitat quality) and illegal hunting, where adults are killed for bushmeat, and the youngsters sold as pets (both locally and internationally). This hunting is acerbated further by the activities that cause habitat loss, as sale or transport of meat/pets is often seen as useful additional income, and/or forms part of the workers diet. What can be done? Twycross Zoo supports bonobo conservation ex situ (out of the wild – a captive breeding programme) and in situ (in the wild – through financial support of local organisations).

Zoo captive breeding programmes aim to make the most of the genetic diversity already present in the captive population (it is very rare for animals to be deliberately taken from the wild for zoos, especially in countries like the UK), and Twycross Zoo has been very successful. At the moment there are two young juveniles (Winton and Malaika will turn three years old this summer), and two infants (Lopori, 15 months, and we have had a new baby – pictured with mum Banya born in February). However, while captive born bonobos provide a useful reserve population, and they can contribute to education and fundraising efforts – the scale of the problems facing wild bonobos means that in situ conservation is essential if we want to preserve the species.

The two bonobo projects that Twycross Zoo supports are Lola Ya Bonobo and AWELY green caps.
Lola Ya Bonobo is a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (the only country home to bonobos) and they enable the confiscation of live bonobos for sale in the country. Without the sanctuary to raise awareness and rehabilitate the bonobos they would have to be killed after confiscation. A lot of the work they do brings the (normally young) bonobos back to health, before introducing them to the larger group and developing their bonobo social and physical skills, they have successfully released a number of their bonobos back into the wild, according to their website the last group were released in April 2011.
AWELY green caps is looking at the other side of the coin – how can the hunting of bonobos be prevented in the first place? They worked with local people to survey the scale of the consumption and hunting of bonobos to identify key motivations and reasons. They are now focussing on changing attitudes based on the information they gathered. This includes a bonobo ambassador scheme (where former hunters, sellers and consumers promise to avoid bonobo in the future), developing educational programmes for local schools and helping people retrain from hunting to intensive farming (the IUCN red list highlights that it is important to ensure that any new farming is intensive as low intensity, particularly slash and burn, farming is a serious threat to habitat).

So that’s all the stuff that “others” are doing, but I want the people I talk to – whether kids or adults – to make a difference themselves. This can be a challenge, it is incredibly unlikely that they would eat bonobo meat (though it is likely exported into this country, given the scale of illegal bushmeat imports to Western Europe exposed by this Chaber et al. 2010 – unfortunately, this paper is behind a paywall, and I can find my downloaded pdf) and discussing recycling to protect the rainforest is used so frequently, it is an oft heard phrase and seems (I’ve only my own observations) to have less impact (though I’m sure I’ll cover an example where I do use it at another point).

Instead I introduce tantalum mining which, thanks to the economic downturn and a rise in illegal exports of this rare metal leading to Australia close their tantalum mines, is primarily mined from rainforested countries and over 60% from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda (Tantalum and Niobium report see page 20 for the graph illustrating this). One of the uses of tantalum is in compact electronic devices, particularly mobile phones, and this is one of the rare metals that is extracted in the recycling of these devices. So this make for a simple action – any old mobile phones need to go to a mobile recycling provider. There is the added incentive that many of these companies will pay for your old mobile to.

So that’s one of the key case studies I use to highlight conservation of a specific species in a classroom or discussion environment.

Sources:

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