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Sally Jewel Coxe
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Acclaimed author Deni Béchard has released his new book Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral. This poignant, illuminating work chronicles Béchard’s travels through the Congo with the Bonobo Conservation Initiative (BCI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting bonobos through empowering local Congolese communities. “Béchard’s riveting journey through the ‘dark continent’ provides a surprisingly uplifting story about a radically different and successful conservation program,” writes David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering our Place in Nature.

“Deni Béchard in Empty Hands, Open Arms has accomplished no less than a tour de force in recounting the improbable and inspiring efforts of a small non-governmental group, the Bonobo Conservation initiative, that together with local indigenous leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is working to save one of the world’s most important rainforests and the living creature genetically closest to humankind, the bonobo,”  says Bruce Rich, former International Director of  the  Environmental Defense Fund.

Bonobos, humankind’s closest living relative, are only found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, located within the world’s second largest rainforest.  Bonobos are distinguished by their peaceful, cooperative, matriarchal society; their sexual nature, and their remarkable intelligence.  They serve as a powerful flagship both for conservation and for peace. Sadly, these magnificent great apes face extinction due to hunting and habitat destruction. The Congo War left the country and the Congolese people devastated, without many options for survival. BCI's conservation efforts focus on improving the lives of the people, thereby eliminating their reliance on the bushmeat trade which in turn increases the chances for survival of the bonobos and their rainforest home.

Weaving together environmental, political, historical, and anthropological narratives, Béchard captures the challenging context in which BCI’s leaders  Sally Jewell Coxe and Executive Director Michael Hurley have worked for many years. BCI has worked with local leaders to develop the Bonobo Peace Forest, an integrated network of nature reserves that are managed by local communities and supported by sustainable development.  Béchard chronicles how, despite overwhelming obstacles and limited funding,  BCI’s inclusive and participatory approach to conservation has achieved remarkable success. This includes the official creation of over 12,000 square miles of protected areas, which by this measure alone places BCI  firmly in the ranks of the largest and most accomplished conservation  organizations on earth in spite of having a budget that averages less than one percent of the other major conservation NGOs.

Many are praising Empty Hands, Open Arms, including Robert Coles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Coles writes, “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.”

Sally Coxe & Michael Hurley

Sally & Michael have worked tirelessly during the past two decades to protect bonobos, preserve the Congo rainforest, and empower Congolese communities. Their work has been recognized in many publications, including the New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and Time Magazine.   Sally & Michael currently divide their time between Washington, DC and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

To arrange an interview and/or educational presentations , news media or organizational  representatives please contact BCI  at 202-332-1014, or contact . Photos and B-roll are available.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Bonobo Conservation Initiative| 202.332.1014 | 2701 Connecticut Ave NW, #702 | Washington, DC 20008

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Sally Jewel Coxe is a leading conservationist respected for her selfless dedication. She is the perfect champion of the endangered bonobos and an innovator in making conservation go viral. Sally Jewel Coxe as president of BCI, is helping to heal a war-torn nation, stem climate change, empower women, preserve the planet's second largest rainforest, save our closest living relative and restore dignity to the people of the Congo.

Modeling compassion and cooperation while employing innovative strategies, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative leads the way by instilling pride in ancient traditions respectful of the environment while assisting the people with health care, education and employment opportunities. Not content to merely rescue orphaned bonobos or eliminate the bushmeat trade, BCI works to provide hope for a nation whose people have seen unimaginable violence and devastation. 

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