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Please go to my new Psychology Today blog to see what I'm up to. To buy the book, Bonobo Handshake, please visit my website. To follow the adventures of the Lola ya Bonobo orphans, please visit Friends of Bonobos

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lolo and Kata

Some peeps wanted to know if Lomela and Kataco are still friends. Here they are with their arms around each other walking to the nursery.

They’re a bit blurry because actually they’re running. It’s a bit of a debacle every morning to get them from the night building to the nursery. Here is Esperance trying to get them under control.

But it’s all fun and games once they get in. Here is Esperance again playing helicopter with Eleke.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

the delta hypothesis

We went out on the boat today. Manono was swimming in the water. Richard Wrangham from Harvard thinks that bipedalism (standing on two legs) evolved in an environment similar to the Okavanga delta in Botswana where for some parts of the year it was dry, but for the rest of the year it was wet and you had to walk through shallow pools to get to islands where the food was.

Manono is looking for food just like in Richard’s hypothesis. Except he is fishing bananas out of the water that Stany the keeper through in, which is not part of Richard’s hypothesis.

Here is Semendwa being bipedal.

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ps Gemma, Lukuru hasn't been adopted much yet because she just arrived!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


'Hey Vanessa, I just read the newsletter and there was a big section about reintroduction plans. From what I read it doesn't sound like the local people in the area chosen are happy about this plan at all. They don't really seem to understand nor care about conservation of endangered species. So, please explain to me the importance of putting sanctuary-raised bonobos into a potentially disastrous situation (for bonobos and humans)? I understand that they'd live more naturally in the wild, but the wild is full of PEOPLE.'

Hey slb,

I assume you're talking about the Friends of Bonobos newsletter? It's true that the initial release site was where they hunted bonobos and also the local people wanted a lot more money than was reasonable, but the site near Basankusu has th efull support of the Po community who have agreed to be bonobo guardians.

There will always be danger for bonobos who are released, and probably half of the released bonobos will die. But here is why it is important.

Lola is the only bonobo sanctuary in the world and wild populations are decreasing. Bonobos are also the only ape who have never been released into the wild. What you don't want is for nearly all the bonobos to be gone, and the only bonobos left to be at Lola ya Bonobo and then say, 'oh darn it, I guess we'd better figure out how to release bonobos now.' Because then you only have one shot. Lola is reaching capacity, more orphans are coming in. We need to get it right, learn from our mistakes, so that when the time finally comes, we know how to successfully release bonobos into the wild.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bonobo violence

I got this question from Karenhappywoman, and its a very good one:

Hi, What a beautiful blog! I hope you don't mind me having a little question regarding bonobo's. In your blog as well as in many commentaries about bonobos we see that they are very peaceful and friendly beings. My husband told me that he read an article in which researchers said they have found that many bonobos have missing fingers that were bitten of by other bonobos during fights. Have you noticed any of this and could this mean that not all of their conflicts are resolved by having sex? Thank you very much in advance!

There is violence in bonobo society. A few years ago, five females ganged up on a male called Tatanga and beat the crap out of him, almost ripping his testicles off. the difference between bonobos and chimps is that this violence in chimps is a lot more frequent, and also, violence in chimps can end up with someone dead, whereas no one has ever seen bonobos kill each other.

Kanzi, the really famous bonobo, bit two of Sue Savage Rumbagh's fingers off. Jane Goodall is missing a thumb. Two very good reasons why bonobos and chimps should be illegal as pets!

Friday, July 25, 2008

bandundu's baby

Bandundu is our naked ape. She loves being groomed, like some women love the feeling of getting waxed. The girls have obligingly pulled out nearly all her hair! She just had a new baby who is also almost bald - Bandundu reminds me of an australopithecine (is that how you spell it?) . Maybe this is what our ancestors looked like, carryign thier babies and walking through swamps.


This pic if for sheer cuteness factor. It's Masisi who some of you have adopted iwth Mistique, the resident guard dog. what is even more cute about this is that normally the bonobos terrorise Mistique. Mwanda was always chasing her, and Boyoma, of course used to bite her tail. Mistique was always very patient, and she has two puppies of her own now. but when Masisi saw her, she ran up to her and cuddled her like she was a big fluffy toy. Masisi even put her fingers in Mistique's mouth and chewed on her ear. It was totally adorable, all the mamas were very excited.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

lukuru update

Lukuru is looking better today. You can see she’s put some fat on her tummy, and her arms are filling out. She’s drinking milk like a little demon so no worries there, and her favourite food is sugar cane.

Crispin the vet is still not clearing her complete – she’s so young – only 20 months – one of the youngest bonobos we’ve ever gotten at the sanctuary. She’s hardly ever off Mama Henriette, but she definitely holds her own. If one of the other nursery bonobos tries to steal her food, she sinks her little teeth into their hands.

Monday, July 21, 2008


I actually went into the nursery today. I was wondering whether Kataco remembered me, after all those weeks I spent with her last year. You always wonder whether animals remember, like people do. Or whether she was too young. Or whether we all look the same to them.

Ordinarily Kata is a bit shy around people. She loves the mamas, but she’s terrified of new people she doesn’t know.

As soon as I walked in, she crept up to me, scrunching up her little face – the mamas call her ‘matoke’ which means ‘she who scrunches up her face’ – and put her face very close to mine and touched my hair.

‘She remembers you,’ said Mama Henriette.

And I felt so honoured. She climbed on my lap, gave me a little kiss, climbed down and held my hand. I love Kata. I don’t care that she throws tantrums. That little wrinkly face just makes me want to hug her to death

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saké Mayele

Saké is definantly a straight-A student in the nursery. Thats why the Mamas at Lola ya Bonobo call her 'Mayele', which means 'the intelligent one'.

She certaintly lives up to her reputation: she is the fastest when it comes to solving Tori's tests; what would take her class mates a lot of brain power is a piece of cake to her.

At the moment her favourite game is to undo buttons. And once she's finished opening up your pockets she'll gently grab your hands and place them on top the button so that you can button up and she can start all over again.

Not only is Saké smart, she is also very affectionate. If she can find some water she'll splash it all over you and start scrubbing your arms in the same way she gets scrubbed by the Mamas in the morning.

And the best thing of all is that her favourite place to sit is right on top of your head!

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

breakfast visit

Guess who ran up to our house this morning?

Lolo! She had just finished having a bath and smelled like coconut oil. She escaped the mamas walking her to the forest, ran to our porch and started sniffing around as if to say, ‘what do you guys eat for breakfast around here?’ Mama Micheline gave her the warning ‘Lomela!’ read ‘you’re in trouble’. So she jumped into my arms. My goodness she is heavier than the little stick insect of last year. It’s like she quintupled in size. Excuse my spastic looking face, I was just felt so sly and cunning to have caught her for a quick cuddle before breakfast.

I can hardly ever take a photo where she’s not stuffing food in her mouth.

Then I did. Just look at that tummy.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Kata and her BFFs

I don’t know how, but Kata has always got this crinkly expression on her face. The mamas call her La Vielle, ‘the old woman’ because she just has this way of scrunching up her face like she can’t see properly.

I still love her, even though she pulls my hair and jumps up and down on my lap, not registering that she is not the little chiuahua sized skeleton she was last year but a rather large and heavy four year old.

Her BFF in the nursery is usually Eleke, but Tory took Eleke away for testing, and so today she is substituting Vanga, Le petit Chef, or ‘the little chief’, and yes in reply to one of your comments, he does bite humans as much as he bites other bonobos so I suppose it is very democratic of him.

He even groomed her hair with a decoration which happened to be a piece of toilet paper. Imagine.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

how to avoid getting gross worms in your feet.

shoes. and socks. being australian, i live in flip flops. big mistake in the dry season. the worms hide in the dirt, jump onto your toes, drill a hole, deposit the egg sag.

although it starts of very small. like i said, they cut open my toe the first day or so after I got it then nothing. then my skin healed over really thickly and the egg sacs somehow completely anaesthatized the area. it was when i banged my toe on the concrete and couldn't feel ANYTHING, that i thought something might be up.

i still wear flip flops but apparently the worms only come in the other Congo.

i am never going there again.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Introducing Massisi, who some of you have adopted already. She is Kataco’s size when Kata arrived last year. Fluffy, but under all that hair she is really skinny. She has already been here a month and a half, so I think the worst is over, and hopefully she’ll make it.

She is still too weak to do much, she stays on her mama Yvonne most of the day without moving except to eat. She is very trusting though, and holds her hand out whenever someone new comes near.

Massisi is one of Lola’s success stories. One of our employees at Basankusu where the bonobos will be released next year, went home to his village and found one of his people with Massisi in the backyard. He told the villager that it was forbidden to have bonobos, and that bonobos are a protected species, endemic to Congo. Ashamed, the villager handed Massisi over without protest, and now she is at Lola.

She has large sorrowful eyes, but they are not despairing. If she can stay healthy (she is too thin now to survive a serious illness) she will grow big like Lomela.

Here she is, next to Eleke. You can see how tiny she is.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

The most disgusting post ever

I'm serious about this - do not read on unless you want to be seriously grossed out. I meant it, I've felt like throwing up for an hour.

So Evan's foot was looking like this

And Brian is like, 'looks like you got a little infection there', and within two seconds i said 'worms.'

Brian twists and turns the toe, and all of a sudden he twitches.

'It looks like something's moving in there. Better go see Anne Marie.'

Anne Marie is the assistant vet. So I wave good bye, and 10 minutes later Brian comes running up the hill.

'That was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life.'

Cut the story short, Evan had egg sacs in his foot. Like from a worm. It was so disgusting.

He brought it back up to show us, and I nearly puked. Not just becuase of the worms but because she had to cut through half of his foot to get it. This is his foot and next to it are the egg sacs.

But that's not it. So then i start looking at my toes, and there's a slight discolouration under the nail of my second biggest toe. So I get out a safety pin, and the nail clippers and just shear away a little bit of skin. and the skin is really tough there so I didn't really see anything, then I'm like, oh it's nothing, but i'm a little bit suspicious because i've been banging my toe on the concrete and it doesn't hurt. Like at all.

So I just push one more time.... and a ball of pus just erupts from my toe. And I'm like ewwwwwwwwww gross, go into the bathroom, get a cue tip and wipe of the pus. then I look at it closely and i'm like, that is not pus - it's EGGS!!! They looked like little caviar. It was so disgusting.

So I dry retch a little then hobble back down to have them look at my foot.

Yes, they say, they are eggs. So then they have to cut open my foot, dig right under the toenail which is like some weird Japanese torture

'Don't cry like a baby,' Anne Marie says. 'Or we'll cut it off.'

And it hurts so much, but then, Brian is watching and he says the egg sac pops out like the grossest, biggest pimple he has ever seen.

Anne Marie holds it up triumphantly.

So that's why I feel sick. It was so gross. It was seriously revolting. I almost cried.

This was my face afterwards

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lukuru's Story

This is little baby Lukuru sitting on Mama Henriëtte's lap. She has to wear a little cardigan because she is not used to the weather in Kinshasa; she origionally comes from May Ndombe (which means 'black water' in Lingala)-a little village close to the equator.

She was taken to Kinshasa by a bush meat trader. The trader thought her niece, Sandra, would want Lukuru as a pet, because Sandra had allways been very interested in wildlife. Luckily Sandra was a smart girl and knew the right thing to do, and so had her aunt get in touch with Lola ya Bonobo. Lukuru has been here ever since!

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Wakka the zipper monster

This post is by Kate, an itty bitty 17 year old here who was in Congo at Lola all by herself. She sure loves playing with the babies...

This is Waka; she might be tiny but she sure is smart! She's about 3 years old and allready doing excellently in the games Tory has asked her to play. Besides this she has funny whiskers sprouting out around her little red lips.

Waka is very a very curious little monster, she wants to know what is in every pocket or bag you might be carrying. She is very determined about this, so she can spend ages prodding at a button or figuring out a complicated zipper, but all her hard work pays of in the end which usually means you lose your keys, but Waka does not mean any harm by doing this. Actually she's really sweet! She will often take you by your hand and lead you between the trees, as if she is giving you a grand tour of her home

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Everyone who was asking for pictures of Lomela – here she is! She has so much hair, I didn’t even recognise her. That thin little fuzz she had before I left is now shiny and luxurious, thanks to the mamas coating her with coconut oil. She even smells good!

She is also the sweetest bonobo ever. Today I was sitting in the nursery and she came to touch my knee very gently with her mouth. It was a stark contrast to Eleke, who was leaping from my head, and Sake, who demanded I tickle her or she would bite me. Lovingly of course.

I had to wait until Tory was testing Vanga out of the nursery before I could go inside. It took a while for Lomela to come over. She is so big now, I think she must be 4 or 5 years old. When I saw her last year she looked 2 because she was so malnourished. Eventually she came over and instead of jumping on my lap and pulling my hair like everyone else, she just stood very calmly with her hand on my leg and looked into my eyes.

I think she was trying to recognise me. It’s been a long time, for a young bonobo anyway, since I was here last October, but I spent so much time with her and Kata, I think at least she recognised my hair which is different to the mamas’.

I’ll take more photos for all you lolo fans later. But I want to catch some of the other babies in the nursery.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

We love Sara Gruen!

You’ve probably heard of Sara Gruen, who wrote the New York Times Bestseller Water for Elephants. When I bought it at Borders, everyone from the manager to the cashier saw it in my hand and just had to blurt out ‘that’s an amazing book’. And it is. I just finished reading it and it was wonderfully moving, funny, and poignant at the same time. I even cried and I never cry when I read.

We’re terribly excited because her next book will be about bonobos! Not only that, but Sara has sponsored over 30 bonobos – half the sanctuary! Thanks to her wonderful generosity, we have over four times the adoptions of all of last year.

So all you bonobo fans, make sure you buy her next book, I think it will be called Ape House. And while you’re at it, if you haven’t already, buy Water for Elephants. It is the best book I have read all year. And we can proudly say that part of the proceeds goes to us!

As you can see, Eleke got very excited about Water for Elephants and didn’t want to give it back. We had to chase him for half an hour up a tree, and only after Mama Henriette promised she would read it to him!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The post is for James the bonobo fan

Guess who's now running with the big boys now - Boyoma! The little terror of the nursery has been moved in with the big bonobos in enclosure two. I'm totally ecstatic because he bit me last year.

Here he is, don't you love that little angelic face?

But then I took this one which shows he's still the same Boyoma.

Now the terror of the nursery is Vanga. Can't believe it. Dear little sweet Vanga who I have known since he was the size of a kitten is now running around terrorizing people. I don't know why the oldest ones in the nursery always bite. Probably a dominance struggle.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


Here is the malnourished little bonobo from last year, Kataco, the one who nearly died because she wouldn't drink any milk.

Now she is quite the little madam, just look at that pout.

She loves her Mama Henriette, who sat with her in the bungalow for two months waiting for her to recuperate.

So as you can see she is totally adorable. Even if she is given to throwing tantrums.

Today I saw one of my most favourite bonobo behaviours - peering. It's when one bonobo wants some food, and they look very intently at them. Chimps actually try and take the food out of the mouth of the chimp whose got the food. Bonobos do it more politely, but I don't know if you've ever tried to eat with someone staring at you, but it's very disconcerting. It would work on me for sure.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

We're here!

Finally, we're at Lola! Thank god. Crossing the river was not as easy as I remember. In fact, can I offer some advice to anyone thinking of taking the boat from Brazzaville to Kinshasa - do not take 18 bags of luggage. Especially if you are only 5 poeple and therefore only have 10 hands.

The weirdest thing I saw was on the other side while we were getting hassled by customs (what IS in all those bags, madam?) was about 20 handicapped people coming through in a line with boxes strapped all over their bodies. There were blind people, people in wheel chairs, people with no legs getting carried, and all of them looked like suicide bombers with packets of whatever stuffed under their tshirts.

It turns out handicapped people are not taxed when they bring goods from one country to the other, so importers hire them to carry their stuff. crazy.

Here are the two newest bonobos - lukuru who is the smallest bonobo I have ever seen. She is only 18 months old and it's a miracle she's alive.

This one is Masisi, who is worryingly thin. I haven't had a chance to chat with the vet about the prospects of these two but will hopefully do by tommorrow.

Testing starts Monday!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

off to bonobo land!!

Yay! It's finally the day we've been waiting for! We're crossing the Congo river to see the bonobos so you may not hear from me for a few days

We're nervous and excited at the same time because we're flying on the congolese airline TAC, then crossing the river by boat to Kinshasa and manage to get our 15 suitcases full of equipment and data from the last two months through customs.

most of all i cant wait to see the bonobos and see how they have changed.

Brian and I will be sad because Molou died and will miss her.

But on the brighter side there are some new orphans who seem to be survivors. Bonobos often die when they first come to the sanctuary b/c they are so fragile and loose the will to live without their mothers - this is very different than chimps who are more robust against their ill fate. So we are curious to meet these new orphans and learn all about their personalities at the nursury.

there are at least 3 new babies, this one is Eleke who was found by the side of the road.

Also it will be fun to to see Solanga with her new baby.

the big question for our work over the next weeks will be whether the dorm is going to work. we built and big gerbil cage for the bonobos with lots of interlocking rooms that we can use to play all sorts of games with them, but they are so anxious about new things we just are not sure how they are going to react . it could be that none of our tests will work and brian will cry.