Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral [NOOK Book]

Overview

When acclaimed author Deni Béchard first learned of the last living bonobos—matriarchal great apes that are, alongside the chimpanzee, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom—he was completely astonished. How could the world possibly accept the extinction of this majestic species?

Béchard discovered one relatively small NGO, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), which has done more to save bonobos than many far larger organizations. ...
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Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral

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Overview

When acclaimed author Deni Béchard first learned of the last living bonobos—matriarchal great apes that are, alongside the chimpanzee, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom—he was completely astonished. How could the world possibly accept the extinction of this majestic species?

Béchard discovered one relatively small NGO, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), which has done more to save bonobos than many far larger organizations. Based on the author’s extensive travels in the Congo and Rwanda, this book explores BCI's success, offering a powerful, truly postcolonial model of conservation. In contrast to other traditional conservation groups Béchard finds, BCI works closely with Congolese communities, addressing the underlying problems of poverty and unemployment, which lead to the hunting of bonobos. By creating jobs and building schools, they gradually change the conditions that lead to the eradication of the bonobos.

This struggle is far from easy. Devastated by the worst military conflict since World War II, the Congo and its forests continue to be destroyed by aggressive logging and mining. Béchard's fascinating and moving account—filled with portraits of the extraordinary individuals and communities who make it all happen offers a rich example of how international conservation must be reinvented before it's too late.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Through a series of interviews and travelogues, novelist and memoirist Béchard (Cures for Hunger) recounts his efforts, alongside Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI) president Sally Jewell Cox, to save the nearly extinct bonobo chimpanzee. Since the Congolese have a complicated relationship with both the bonobos and the rainforest, BCI takes a “grassroots” approach, working with existing institutions to effect change. Strategies include laying the groundwork for ecotourism, which could boost both the bonobo population and the Congolese economy. Despite the author’s good intentions, the narrative becomes diffuse as he tries to tackle the Congo’s history, and the complex political and economic factors involved in global warming and the destruction of the rainforest. Béchard is at his best when sharing his own insights; he makes his most salient points when describing his firsthand experience among the Congolese, narrating his travels through Djolu and Kokolopori by motorcycle and canoe. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

"Béchard’s masterful, adventure-driven reporting delivers an inspiring account of an all-too-rare ecological success story." —Booklist

"[This book] re-imagines intervention for the benefit of both ecosystems and local communities." —Vancouver Sun

“A vivid, inspiring book.” —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.” —Interview with Béchard in Independent European Daily Express

“Here is the matter of conservation given profound explanation—a searching and knowing consideration that enables an important social and political and cultural struggle in Africa to become a needed lesson for us who live elsewhere to ponder, take to heart.” —Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, MacArthur Fellow, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

"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

“Intelligent, engaged, and above all, astonishingly perceptive.” —Dinaw Mengestu, MacArthur Fellow and author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears

“'Masterful and moving." —Grant Hayter-Menzies, author of Imperial Masquerade and Shadow Woman

"A tour de force." —Bruce Rich, author of Mortgaging the Earth

“Deni Béchard's riveting journey through the ‘dark continent’ provides a surprising uplifting story about a radically different and successful conservation program.“ —David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance

"Béchard's adventurous travels in the Congo offer spice to this rich, complex account." —Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Deni Béchard

"Stunningly poignant." —O, The Oprah Magazine

"Béchard has a voice and a vision all his own, both tough-minded and passionately emotional." —Kirkus Reviews

"A clearly gifted writer." —Robert Olen Butler

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Béchard (Cures for Hunger: A Memoir, 2012, etc.), a foreign correspondent familiar with war zones, probes beneath headlines describing the Congo as "a country of such inhumanity that we find it incomprehensible" and finds another, more hopeful reality. The author explains that he was drawn to the Congo because its tropical rain forests play a crucial role in preventing climate change. As the area has become more stable politically after years of civil war, the threat of deforestation is looming due to the renewed, large-scale corporate exploitation of its valuable mineral resources. This also endangers the small remaining population of bonobos, "humanity's closest living relative alongside the chimpanzee," whose only natural habitat is the Congolese rain forest. Establishment of more traditional national parks, which exclude local farming, is not a viable solution, since the forests have become a refuge for Congolese forced out of their homes by civil war. Béchard learned that a small NGO, Bonobo Conservation Initiative, founded by American conservationists, offers an alternative model: a partnership among the BCI villages to preserve the rain forest and protect the bonobos. Villagers agree to voluntarily restrict their farming to designated areas; in return, they are employed in various jobs--e.g., tracking the bonobos and guarding them from poachers. The BCI takes responsibility for providing medical care and primary schools, as well as access to higher education. Graduates trained in environmental science then become part of the management. While the immediate BCI focus is to preserve the bonobo population, its broader purpose is to develop ecotourism as a viable economic alternative to corporate exploitation. The author profiles Americans and Congolese who are involved in this visionary effort to meld traditional and modern values in service of a planetary imperative. Béchard's adventurous travels in the Congo offer spice to this rich, complex account.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571318497
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publication date: 10/1/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 912,854
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Deni Béchard's first novel, Vandal Love, won the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. He has also authored a memoir, Cures for Hunger, and written for a number of magazines and newspapers, among them the LA Times, Salon, Outside, the National Post, VQR, Maisonneuve, Le Devoir, the Harvard Review, and the Harvard Divinity Bulletin . He has been a fellow at MacDowell, Jentel, the Edward Albee Foundation, Ledig House, the Anderson Center, and Vermont Studio Center, among others. He has done freelance reporting from Northern Iraq as well as from Afghanistan, and he has traveled in more than fifty countries. When not abroad, he divides his time between Cambridge and Montréal.
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