Empty Hands Open Arms tells the story of a different approach to rainforest and wildlife conservation. For several months, I followed the work of Congolese and American conservationists in the Congo. Their organization, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, uses community building to promote conservation in the world’s second largest rainforest. We entered the rainforest by bush plane, landing in a field, and traveled on national highways that were mud paths.
Watching the Bonobo Conservation Initiative at work, I learned how, with few funds, they have established numerous protected areas for the bonobo, a matriarchal great ape that shares 98.6% of human DNA and that is the only great ape never to have been witnessed killing another of its kind. Bonobos are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, with close-knit social groups that in many ways resemble our own. During the Second Congo War, however, thousands of them were exterminated by soldiers and starving people who relied on hunting to survive. Bonobos are now critically endangered, and their rainforest habitat is rapidly shrinking.
The conservationists that I am writing about work with the values of local people, with their folklore and spiritual beliefs, in order to create cultural support for conservation. They focus on community consensus and finding ways to address the needs of the local people through conservation. The result is a conservation movement that might be characterized as viral, neighboring communities creating their own protected areas with virtually no funding.
In Empty Hands Open Arms, I offer both a travelogue as well as a close description of how they do their work so that others can reproduce it. The book is a character-driven examination of conservation approaches and the many struggles that conservationists face and that we all now face to protect the environment. For it, I interviewed dozens of conservationists and extensively researched the work being done to protect great apes from extinction. I am currently raising funds to finish researching and writing the book. Thank you for your time and support.
Risks and challenges
At this point, there are few risks other than those involved with travel for the final research. I have already published two books: a memoir and a novel that won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book in the 54 countries of the British Commonwealth, including Canada, the UK, and Australia. Empty Hands, Open Arms is under contract with Milkweed Editions, a US publisher, and it will be published in October 2013.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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