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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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

anxiously awaiting...

Florent, the videographer, the amazing Nick de Souza (regional director for WSPA), and our vet, Marie Laure arrive with their precious cargo...

... and here are the Po, the bonobo guardians, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the bonobos!

the cheif himself is here, in his leopard skin had with leopard teeth necklace ( a very old heirloom, we are told)

More from our vet, ML from june 14

Up at 2:30am! the anasthaestia started well, the medicine mixed with a big of honey and the bonobos fell asleep one by one. The last blood tests, and the last photos. when the bonobos were ready, they were put in their cages for the truck of the airline.

We had a little trouble getting Etumbe to sleep - she is pregnant and we had to be super careful - so we couldn't give her to much anasthesia - we had to trick her into her cage!

7am, ready just in time for the trucks to take us to the airport.

thanks to the ministry, the bonobos arrived like royalty on the airport tarmac. the cages were loaded onto the plane, but Lomami, our rock star, didn't want people he didn't know approaching him - the keepers had to calm him down and carry his cage themselves!

Once all the cages were on the plane, we loaded all the equipment. the cages were roped to the plane to stabilise them and we hunkered down among the bags, the equipment and the bonobos.

during the flight, all the bonobos seemed to settle down well. Lomela played in the cage with Mbano, under the watchful eye of her mother, Etumbe. Max, our handsome male calmed down Lomami. Only Lukaya was restless and needed another injection.

After the 2 hour flight, we arrived at Basankusu. The door of the plane opened to the Equateur heat. The whole village had come to the airport to see! We had to hide the sight of all the people from the bonobos - we didn't want to freak them out!

Everything went quickly. It was very hot and we gave water to all the bonobos.

Accompanied by the entire village who turned up to see this historic day, we arrived at the ABC house. there were so many people, the local police had to rope it all off!

Sugar cane and water all round. the bonobos started to wake up - Max looked at the river, very interested...

Monday, June 29, 2009

relive the release!

yay! i just got some photos from the release that i'll be posting over the next week! they really tell the story of how excited everyone is.

Here are the bonobos getting loaded onto the plane

our vets, Marie laure and Michel (left and right) and in the middle, Florent, our videographer

michel and Marie Laure doing some veterinary type stuff

and checking on their precious cargo!

And here is a letter from our vet Marie Laure dated june 13!

It's here! After three months of watching the clock, we had a rendez vous with Air Kasaï at the airport for the last details of the flight - we have finally arrived at the release day!

Everything seemed under control - the vets helping us were Dr Nick de Souza, the regional director of WSPA, Dr Michel Halbwax and Dr Fanny Miehl - volunteer vets to boost up the team...

Everything was ready for our dear bonobos - at 9am sharp, the alarm sounded - Tatango had escaped!

ready for combat, I ran to the vet block...

but wait - Keza has also escaped! So have Kalina and her baby, Malaika!

Imagine, at Lola, just before their big flight, 3 grown bonobos running around! Thanks to the Mamas, who are extremely important in these moments (since they took care of the bonobos when they were babies) Keza and Kalina were brought back in. Kalina rummaged through the drawers and found a tin of powdered milk, which Malaika happily shared!

Keza was also tempted back inside with treats - there was only Tatango, the big male who remained outside. While taking a walk around outside, Dr Nick successfully darted him and everything was back under control

The equipment for the health check and anaesthesia was assembled and the bonobos who were going to the release were gathered together.

Night fell at Lola - everything was ready before the big rush!

Friday, June 26, 2009

bonobo release - beni!!!

beni is one of my favourite bonobos because he is super smart!!! recall the windows task where you can watch the video

he understands gravity!!!!! which is actually not that common. and ok yes, as you'll read in the post i failed it. which might make me dumb, but i think it makes beni really really smart!!!

i know his phenomenal intelligence is goign to serve him really well in the forest!

also he is very handsome, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

bonobo release - lomami

lomami was the saddest bonobo i ever saw. in 2005, he had just arrived at the sanctuary. all the fingers on his right hand had beencut off, some of them at different times. basically someone locked him up in a cage, cut off a finger, came back a few days later, cut off another one.

claudine was sure he would die. he didnt play with other bonobos. he was afraid of all people. he didn't want to be picked up or carried. he was so unbelievably traumatised that he would sit alone, hug himself and rock.

now he is surrounded by friends. he spends a lot of time grooming with other bonobos, and they all love him. he still doesn't trust people, not suprisingly, so he is a great canditate for release. i'm so glad his story has a happy ending!

Monday, June 22, 2009

update from Nick D'Souza

Nick is one of Lola's most beloved vets. He has been there almost since the beginning, and currently heads up WSPA Africa. Here is his latest post (thanks Sheryl!)

We're all amazed as we continue to follow the journey of nine lucky bonobos who have now been released back into the wild.

WSPA’s Nick D’Souza is the lead vet on the release, and he’s been sending updates. Here's the latest...

"It's been a weird and wonderful trip over the last few days. Although we've had our moments of stress and drama, in the end the translocation went very well, especially for the bonobos. They did go through the normal expected stress, but nothing very major. We took the pirogues up the river to the holding pen, and let them out of the cage one at a time so that they would have a chance to look around and settle in bit by bit.

Although the alpha male Max demonstrated some typical... alpha max behaviour (!) he was soon put in his place by the REAL boss, Itumbe. She has been extremely calm throughout the whole translocation procedure and once again, led the group to settle in well.

Moving in

A baby bonobo at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary.

The bonobos all seemed to thrill to the freedom of being back in the forest. The little ones - much like human children flinging themselves out of school at the end of the day - were visibly excited to be back in the forest after the long journey. They ran around excitedly, climbing up the trees, jumping up and down in the high branches, pulling off handfuls of leaves and hurling them down in sheer glee!

One of the younger females, Lisala, was the most adventurous of the group and managed to jump out of the holding pen and into the forest.

She spent a nice long time walking around, exploring the forest, where she was joined by Claudine who just wanted to make sure Lisala was ok by herself. They held hands and walked around for a long while, by which time Lukaya - another young female - had clambered up a palm tree in the holding pen, and managed to catapult herself out into the open forest too!

Thankfully, though, both of them returned to the holding pen, apparently satisfied with what their new surroundings were like. They are all scheduled to have further medical tests today (Wednesday) to check that none of them are carrying tuberculosis (TB).

So far, it looks as though it's all going exactly as per plan, and we will certainly keep monitoring these pioneers over the next few weeks to make sure they adapt to their new home as comfortably as possible."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

bonobo release - Lomela

ok, i know a lot of people are going to freak out, pacing the kitchen and wondering when their little baby girl is going to be alright. i know many of you have followed her journey from a hairless little skeltor into a beautiful, kind bonobo, and shed tears and offered prayers for her. but little Lolo has grown up. She's 7 years old - almost a grown up, in bonobo terms. I know how heart wrenchign it is to let her go and of course i want her to stay at lola forever. But my dear, dear friends, after I lived through the horrible flu at Lola in march, where 7 bonobos dies, just like that, I realised that the sanctuary is not just a zoo where bonobos live their whole life. the most important thing about Lola is that they are doing something really important - figuring out how to release bonobos back into the wild.

Lolo is perfect for the release. because as we all know, she is just so sweet. she is everyone's friend, never causes any conflict in the group and always works hard to reconcile if two bonobos are fighting. so we hope she will be a focal part for the group . for the release to work, the best chance is for the group to stick together, and Lolo is like glue, she's like the magic ingredient, the special someone that brings everyone together.

i would love for her to stay safe at Lola, but as Claudine said to me,

'these are not my bonobos. they are wild animals. and i have to let them go.'

yes i am crying. because i to put her in my pocket and hold her safe safe safe forever. but that is a selfish love. Lomela should get to live the life of a wild bonobo. i'm not pretending it will be easy or ther won't be threats to her safety, but this is the life she was born for. and i think giving back it back when it was taken from her so terribly is a good thing, don't you?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

bonobo release - report from the field 2

Ok…day 2…I didn’t go to see the bonobos until the evening…but oh my, the adventures!!! Lisala a young female and Lukaya, jumped the fence… Lomami tried to follow but unfortunately the branch they had used wouldn’t allow him to!!!
So the first ever bonobo to de reintroduced into the wild was Lisala…and she went of her own accord…so then Claudine and Suzy and some others went for a walk in the forest with them… since then Lukaya came back to the enclosure but Lisala stayed out and built her nest in the trees just near the enclosure!!! How amazing for them…I wasn’t there but from what I heard they were listening to every sound, sniffing every scent, looking everywhere…so much to see, discover and learn!!!

Meanwhile I was in the camp with various people staying out of the rain and drinking tea! Hmmmm!!!

This morning though at 6 am we went over to see them, this time I got to go into the enclosure as soon enough they will be out and they need to get used to people being accessible to them as opposed to on the other side of the wire fence. I spent ages in there and it was amazing, the first to climb all over me where Kubulu and Mbano of course, and then they almost each came to say hello. As I was in Max’s territory I had to go and say hello… I went over to him and started to groom him, at that point he started grooming me and he must have groomed me for over 15 minutes, if I count unzipping every zip on my trousers several times, but he was so gentle and it was my first real contact in an enclosure with a big male…amazing…think Diane Fossey and Digit!!! Ok well it’s not quite the same thing…but it is my version and the one I am getting to experience!!! I can’t even find the words… to know that these animals are now in the forest…and tomorrow they should all be out of the enclosure…seeing where they come from and where they are now going!!! It is amazing! When I get the chance I will give you details on each of them to see what they are coming from and now they are returning home…and I have to say, they seem happy about it! Indeed Lisala was very happy to be out and about and walking through the forest!

I have just rushed back to Basankusu, time to check mails, maybe post a blog… and I must rush back to Elonda now (Where my puppies are waiting for me)!

I havn’t been able to unload the pictures so they will come soon and I hope to be back in Basankusu in a few days to tell you all how tomorrow goes!!!

Big smiley face all around!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

bonobo release - report from the field

this is from Gladys, a volunteer at the release site:

Wow!!!! Best experience of my life!!!!

Oh my God, the past few days have been amazing!!! I’m not even sure where to start!!!
Ok, On Sunday the bonobos arrived safely in Basankusu, they where loaded onto a truck in front of a public worthy of a football stadium…so much for a discreet arrival!!!

I was waiting at the ABC house, and was very emotional from the moment I saw their cargo plane pass overhead!!! I couldn’t believe they were actually arriving!!! So we had about 10 police men mobilised in front of the house and the truck soon arrived, the animals were in fact awake, a bit scared but they where ok, they were hidden under some big tarps! As fast as possible they were offloaded from the plane and set in the garden in the shade, there we tried to give them all some water but they where a bit to wary of everything that was going on around them. As fast as we could we (well the carriers we had hired) carried them down to the river and onto the raft. Max and Lomami where the most agitated ones, but they soon enough calmed down. Then we set off together, the raft and the pirogue we travelled together for a bit and then we went ahead to get off by the enclosure and clear the tunnel for the raft before it arrived… Soon enough people where coming along on their little pirogues to see the arrival, the police men who were with us had to tell them to leave…for the sake of the bonobos…we needed a calm atmosphere!!!

So then we were all waiting near the enclosure and finally we saw the raft arriving with its precious cargo!!!! They moved in for the rehearsed entry into the tunnel!!! And then…. Oh No!!! Just as they were finalising the entry one of the two motors came loose and nearly fell into the water…result… crash into the tunnel of electrified wires!!! Luckily we had turned the electricity off for the arrival!!! But our first fear was that the whole enclosure would not work now…so how could we release the bonobos???

Luckily we tested it and it still worked in their enclosure!!! Phew!!!
So then we began unloading the bonobos…this was the first time for so many people to see bonobos… they were a bit wary even though they were in their cages. So we carried them through the sas and set them down in the shade. I went around with the others giving them peanuts, water, bananas etc. and it was good… they were relatively calm… but were eager to get out of their cages!!!

We waited for things to calm down a bit and most of the delegation of officials who had followed us left… we then left Claudine, Stany the keeper from Lola and Suzy who knows the bonobos very well, inside the enclosure ready to release them one by one from their cages… The whole process took about an hour, letting out the calmest ones first, letting them look around and start eating before letting out the next! And finally they were all out looking around their new but very temporary enclosure.

We all sat and watched them until night fall, looking around, eating, having a bit of sex of course and settling down for the night but on the ground, we had hoped they would head for the trees and make nests…never mind!!!

Then we set off for the camp across the river which thanks to Marielle’s hard work (and the workers of course) was just lovely!!! We had some food, showered and all hit the sac…it had been a long day for all…especially those in Kinshasa who had got up at 2 am to begin all the bonobo work!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

bonobo release concerns

hi everyone,

i know a few people have concerns about the release, so I'm going to try and address them here.

I know I've only been posting about the release for a while, but the planning stages have been going on for 3 years.

So, according to IUCN guidelines, all the possible candidates for release were isolated 6 months ago. This was to keep them in quarantine with little contact with humans. No visitors were allowed to pass them and this part of the sanctuary was roped off.

The candidates for release were closely monitored by vets and staff, so that an appropriate group could be chosen.

Lomela was moved out of the nursery in January

The final release group was not chosen until April.

During the flu, precautions were successfully taken so the release group was not contaminated. Staff were restricted to their enclosures and full sanitary measures were enforced.

Even in the wild, apes are exposed to human diseases. Because of the encroachment of human populations to wild habitats, contact with humans are unavoidable.

Also, in the forest where the bonobos will be released, no one has seen any wild bonobos in a decade. They have all been hunted out, which is why this is a good chance to take a genetically unrelated group of bonobos and repopulate the forests.

Ape releases have been conducted in every great ape species. Strict guidelines are being followed, and we have learned from their mistakes and their succes.

Also, the bonobos won't be just dumped int eh forest. Teams from Harvard and Duke will be following the bonobos after the release, and even after the researchers, there will be keepers at Lola there.

Please let me know if there are any more concern! But it might take me a while to get to them b/c i'm in Australia. Till then, I've set up some automatic posts to keep announcing the bonobos who will be released.



Monday, June 15, 2009

bonobo release - kubulu

kubulu is the one of mudbath fame a few days ago. Well now he can go into the forest and take as many mudbaths as he likes. my first memory of kubulu is that every morning without fail he would run away from the nursery, run to our table as we were eating breakfast, plunge his hand into the sugar jar and step on all the plates then run off.

it was cute the first time, but when he did it EVERY morning for 6 weeks, it was like, 'seriously? kubulu, you did this yesterday. and the day before that. aren't you like, sugar rushed out?' but no. and he kept doign it until he was in grou p3.

he was very close to claudine. apart from the mamas, she was the only one who never got her hair pulled. i got my hair pulled lots. plus kicked in the head. in a friendly kungfu way...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

bonobo release today!!

the bonobos will be released today! i just got this message from Pierrot, our education officer

'Everything is set to go! nine of the 17 bonboos selected for the release are soon arriving at Basankusu. A strong team of experts are coming with them: Claudine, Marielle, who will be looking after the release site, Gladez, a volunteer and the staff already here at Basankusu. Soem of the keepers will accompany the bonboos to the airport.

It's difficult to describe the emotion here. A page in a new story for us is opening... more soon!'


yay the bonobos!

Friday, June 12, 2009

bonobo release - etumbe & mbano

Etumbe is the sweetest female I know. She is 23 years old which is full grown and oneday i went walking int eh forest with her and she just held my hand and groomed me. it was such a beautiful moment. she will be the group's female leader. Here she is with her baby mbano.

we were at lola the year she gave birth. it was Lola' very first baby and it was so exciting! all the other bonobos werecrowing around and wanted to see the baby, they were SO excited.

now etumbe gets to raise her baby in the wild where she came from. Etumbe spent years with keza in a biomedical facility in kinshasa and it was many years before she even saw grass. i think someone wanted to know how keza ended up in the facility. i'm not sure. they were either captured or rescued fro teh wild then used in various tests, or not, i'm not sure. but they spent years in tiny cages before they finally saw the big forests at Lola and now they have an even bigger forest at Ekolo - the release site!!

ps. it's my birthday today:)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

wait a minute....

before i start talking about bonobos, i should tell you what's goign to happen. ok so on the 14th, a special plane with all the seats taken out will fly the first group of 9 bonobos to basankusu, it's about a 2 hour flight. then they get unloaded and driven to the reelase site with all the vets on hand. They'll be knocked out with anathesia, and i can't wait to hear what they look like when they see their big new forest before them!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

bonobo release - countdown!

wow - i can't believe it's here already- the first group of bonobos will be released on June 14 - in two days! Over the next few weeks i think it's going to be hard to get news from the field so every day i'm going to write about the bonobos who will be released and a little bit about their personalities. wish them well! this is the world's first bonobo release and what we accomplish here is really important.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

kiss from keza

keza was one of the bonobos in a biomedical laboratory. he had never seen grass before he came to Lola. this is his favourite expression

Friday, June 5, 2009


guylaine took this photo of kubulu - can you tell it's the rainy season? he's having a bit of a mud bath. i think he'll be clean by 2010

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Manono, the adult male LOVES Claudine. he goes bonkers every time he sees her. Here he's giving her a smooch through the fence. no doubt if the fence wasn't there he would have leapt into her lap

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

lolo looking pensive

god knows how guylaine got this photo - Lomela is so hard to snap shot! But here she is looking beautiful and pensive.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

sandoa being cute

nothing more to say, really

Monday, June 1, 2009


Last week I got an email from a friend of mine, Sheril Kirschenbaum, who runs a very popular blog called The intersection.

She wrote

'I invite you to join a very important blogospheric initiative called SILENCE IS THE ENEMY starting June 1st to help a generation of young women half a world away . Why? Because they are our sisters and children--the victims of sexual abuse who don't have the means to ask for help. We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we're able to speak for them. I'm asking all of you use your platform to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls .'

I have a vested interest in this because we work in Congo, where some of the worst abuses towards women have taken place.

So every Monday, I will be posting on what is happening. I'm warning you, it's disturbing. And what does it have to do with bonobo protection? Rape destroys women who hold the fabric of their society together. The slaughter of bonobos will not stop until women feel safe enough to go to the fields, providing enough food for their families.

The fate of bonobos and the Congolese are inextricably linked. The other bloggers and I just want to bring it to your attention that this is going on. These women and girls deserve to be acknowleged. I'm encouraging everyone to support Heal Africa, and NGO who runs a hospital where some of the worst abuses are taking place.