320 pages, colour illustrations, maps
When acclaimed author Deni Bechard 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? Bechard 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, Empty Hands, Open Arms explores BCI's success, offering a powerful, truly postcolonial model of conservation. In contrast to other traditional conservation groups Bechard 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. Bechard's fascinating and moving account Empty Hands, Open Arms – 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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Deni Bechard'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.