This project is a collaboration between BINCO, the World Wildlife Fund DR Congo (WWF DRC) and the local NGO Mbou-Mon-Tour (MMT) to protect the community forests of Nkala, Mpelu and Embirima in the Mai-Ndombe province, to the southwest of the DR Congo. WWF DRC and MMT are setting up a durable ecotourism-conservation initiative named Picbou (Projet intégré de conservation des bonobos de l’ouest) to help generate some natural capital-based durable income for the local communities. The vast area is primarily characterised by natural forest fragments in a savannah context and the relatively easy viewing of bonobo groups is particularly suitable for eco-tourism.
BINCO’s role in this project involves the coordination of a rapid biodiversity assessment to collect standardised biodiversity data and help with the capacity building of eco-guides. To ensure sustainability of the eco-tourism and efficacy of the conservation initiatives, the foremost research information needed is on population size, distribution and trends herein (IUCN, 2020).
Additionally, a better knowledge of the biodiversity in the region is required to decide on conservation priorities and management decisions.
Density estimation of bonobos is challenging due to their shyness and low densities. We focus on traditional line transect surveys that rely on nest observations Data collection for this survey method is intensive due to low nest encounter rates, and results have a fairly large amount of uncertainty because of the estimations associated with nest decay and production rates. We are therefore looking into applying drones to reduce the time and effort needed to survey arboreal primates while increasing the accuracy. Instead of nest counts, night surveys using thermal imaging cameras have the potential to quickly and accurately calculate population densities of arboreal primates, such as bonobos, sleeping in their nests.
For the overall rapid biodiversity assessment, we aim to get the best overview possible of (conservation-relevant) species present in the region focusing on a select group of taxa. We will survey birds (mist netting and point counts), butterflies and dragonflies that could be relevant for ecotourism initiatives. Additional taxa surveyed include large mammals (camera trapping and tracks), amphibians and reptiles (VES and pitfall traps), ground beetles and spiders (pitfall traps and opportunistic searches) and hawk moths/saturnids (light trapping). Depending on interest, we can also research bats (mist netting), ants (pitfall traps and opportunistic searches) and selected plant families that will be collected in the field. The fieldwork is planned for October 2021.