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Presentation of Paniscus association

What is Paniscus?

Paniscus is a French organisation that aims to contribute to the conservation of the bonobos (Pan paniscus in Latin) and the biodiversity of their natural environment. Paniscus does not hide any other organisation and is only founded by the will of the two founders, Gaetan Duhamel, biologist and actual president of the organisation and Jean-Pascal Guery, zookeeper, ethologist and actual vice-president of Paniscus. Paniscus was founded in October 2002 after the encounter between the two founders, both passionate in primates and convinced that something has to be done for their protection in their natural environment.
They were especially attracted by the characteristics of the bonobos and because relatively little is done for their protection, they decided to found an organisation. Paniscus does not only aim at protecting the bonobos, but also all other fauna and flora of their biotope, without neglecting the importance of the quality of life of the local people.

What are bonobos?

Because of the inaccessibility of their natural environment the bonobo is the last great ape described by science. They are the least known great apes, also because of the instable situation in Congo, the only country where they occur.
They are about as tall as chimpanzees, but they have black faces from birth, pink lips and a shrill voice. They live on the left border of the Congo stream in the primary (= not affected by humans) tropical rainforest around the equator in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For short distances they travel dextrous through the trees. If they have to travel fast (e.g. in case of danger) or for long distances they prefer the forest floor and they walk on their knuckles. Sometimes they move on two legs if they want to carry nuts or fruits away.
They live in great communities (up to 200 individuals) and during the day they split in little forage groups (called parties) that regularly change in size and composition. This type of groups is called the fusion-fission system. Each evening they hoot through the forest and gather to build their sleep nests in the trees.
Just like in chimpanzees the sons stay in their natal group for their lifetime and the daughters migrate as they reach sexual maturity to a nearby bonobo community. But their group life is much less aggressive than in chimpanzees. The (unrelated!) females tighten strong bonds and like that they prevent male aggression. They have a lot of sexual contact and in nearly all possible combinations. They use sex as a way to enforce social bonds and to calm down tensions.

What are the objectives?

1. 1 Education of the people :

Bonobos and the other fauna of the Democratic Republic of Congo are not well known in France and other countries. That is why we want to inform people about the existence and the characteristics of the bonobos. We also want to call attention to the threats to their survival (deforestation, bush meat trade) in their unique biotope: the tropical rainforest of Congo.
This education contains for example school interventions and posts on colloquiums. Via this website we also reach a lot of people. We also have an information magazine for our members and there is a correspondence programme.

2. 2 Funding of in situ studies :

Some scientists have already studied the animal and plant species of Congo. Unfortunately the civil war has often put an end to this. Also as a result of the war the ecological situation has changed: the population has become impoverished and villagers and militaries entered the forest to feed or hide. We know little about the bonobos and the animals that share the same area. Today we only know for sure that the situation is even worse than before the war! How many bonobos are still remaining? How do they react to the changes in their environment ? To which extent is their forest being affected ? All this information is needed to be able to protect the bonobos and the biodiversity of their habitat in an efficient way. Therefore Paniscus is collecting funds to start a study in the field to gather information about this unique biotope.

3. 3 Development aid for the local people :

We can not expect the local people not to hunt anymore or not to cut down forest when their economical situation is miserable. So Paniscus is convinced that development aid and conservation perfectly match. This aid comprises several aspects :

3.1. Development of fair trade :

The rich countries of the northern hemisphere need products that are only produced in the southern development countries (e.g. coffee, cacao, bananas). These products are also cultivated in Congo. With fair trade the local farmers get a fair price for their merchandise.

3.2. Development of durable hunting :

The traditional hunting for own purpose has all rights to continue to exist. It is often the only source of animal proteins for the local people. Mostly they do not hunt bonobos, following the traditions. In some regions bonobos are even considered to be ancestors. Our goal is to restore the respect for bonobos. Often this respect is lost as a result of the massive migration of the local population in the years of war.
For other species hunting can not be completely forbidden. We aim at a durable hunting, so that the populations can persist on the long term and without using methods harmful to the environment. Of course this concept of durable hunting can only be effective if there is no poaching at all. First of all as much as possible data have to be collected on numbers of different species and other ecological data. Then a plan can be drown up in dialogue with the hunters comprising hunting permissions and quota. Poachers often know best the animals they hunt, because their own life depends on it. By giving them an alternative job in which they can use this knowledge, they are discouraged to continue their illegal activities.

3.3. Development of alternative growths :

Fish and meat are the only sources of indispensable proteins in nutrition of the local population. So hunting and fishing are traditionally part of every society. That is why Paniscus chooses durable hunting. To diminish the hunting pressure and the bush meat trade, we also want to stimulate alternative growths. These are food animals with a high yield, but that are not traditionally raised in the local agriculture. The ECOFAC- program of the EU ( has already started several growths with rodents. Also fish breeding can be a possibility, as it is being practiced in the Lékédi Park in Gabon.

4. "Programme EchAss: ECHange epistolaire et ASSistance technique scolaire" :

This project tries to inform the French public about bonobos and the threats that endanger their survival. But with this project we also want to give technical support to the Congolese pupils. First of all Paniscus wants to create a correspondence programme between the French and the Congolese pupils. This interchange can have the protection of nature as theme. The Congolese will be invited to tell the French about the problems of poaching and deforestation that endanger the survival of bonobos and other animals in the forest. The teachers that want to co-operate, will receive a pedagogic booklet as a support with information about deforestation in their country and about all the animal species that inhabit the forests, of course with special attention to the bonobos.

Through this interchange the French pupils get informed about the degradation of the environment they daily face. They will also receive information about the Congolese biodiversity and they are encouraged to think about biodiversity and Europe and France (e.g. the bear and vulture in the Pyrenees, the wolf in the Alps,…).
But also the Congolese pupils are the target group. They are meant to take the initiative for this project. We think that it is psychologically valuable for them to be in the camp of the “educators”. We may not forget that the African countries have endured a forced education in the period of the Western colonisation. Also in the region of both the Congos an Angola the largest amount of men, women and children were captured to serve as slaves in the New World. By this interchange we hope that the Congolese pupils will feel valuated to explain to the French pupils what they have learned about the animals and their environment and how they can improve the ecological situation. In this way the pupils in both countries can convince each other to protect the environment.

Summarised, the objectives of this interchange are :

  • to create mutual respect for a different culture
  • to give education about the protection of nature
  • to draw attention to ecosystems and biodiversity
  • to discover several exotic plant and animal species

Later on, this project will be the precursor for social aid to the Congolese pupils. We can send them for example handbooks, notebooks and pencils to improve the class work. The message of the protection of nature may not be forgotten here. This technical assistance must be provisioned on the long term. It is not useful to support them for some months, and to neglect them afterwards. So this support must be continuous. The only condition will be the continuation of the co-operation.

5. Establishment of a nature reserve :

The ultimate goal of Paniscus remains the establishment of a nature reserve or a National Park in the distribution of the bonobos. In this way a part of this unique environment with its rich biodiversity can be well protected. The Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the east of the country already exists for a long time, especially to protect the Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) in that region. It is a proof that, when necessary, the national and international will is a driven force to protect the natural heritage. So, the establishment of such a park, more west in the country, between the Congo and Kasaï rivers, is definitely possible. In 1999 the World Wildlife Fund International proposed a project to designate the Lomako forest (3800 km²) as a nature reserve. And the reserve was created in 2006. Once established a nature reserve can generate jobs. The area must be permanently guarded to prevent all possible forms of degradation: deforestation and poaching. So ranger posts have to be installed. In order to be more accepted by the local people, a nature reserve has to compensate for the exploitation of the forest as much as possible. The nature reserve must become a new source of income. Ecotourism is an alternative to still use the natural heritage in a good way. And jobs are needed for the tourist infrastructure: guides, drivers, hotel staff, … A good example are the critically endangered Mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Paid visits are organized for the tourists and in this way the gorillas are protected. The income of this ecotourism in the Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) represents the third most important source of income for the country. We hope we can help bonobos to become an alive treasure for the country and its inhabitants. We are convinced that this is the way DRCongo is already engaged on.

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