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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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The fiery Belgian...

Claudine has arrived! She's been in Germany promoting her new book, Wilde Zärtlichkeit

She has the reddest hair I’ve ever seen. She also always looks like she just stepped out of a salon, even after she’s been up all night with a new baby and run all over Kinshasa for permits and stuff. Although she’s lived in the Congo most of her life, she didn’t know anything about bonobos ten years ago and certainly never thought she would one day have the largest population of bonobos in the world. It all started when she was given an orphan bonobo called Mike-no when she was volunteering at the Kinshasa zoo during the 1997 war. Claudine collected food from local restaurants to feed Mike-no and other starving animals at the zoo. Further north, starving soldiers were shooting bonobos for food, and before long, more bonobo orphans found their way to her.

Claudine began a sanctuary of sorts at the American school in Kinshasa. At the height of the 1997 war when Kabila troops arrived on Kinshasa, eleven bonobos slept in Claudine’s garage and every day she drove them to the American school in her SUV. Though the political situation settled, the flow of orphans did not stop, and the school was fast becoming too small.

‘I wanted a paradise for my bonobos,’ Claudine says. ‘Somewhere they would always be fed and taken care of. Somewhere they could always see the sky.’

Friday, September 28, 2007

Temperature debacle- - video

This is me trying to take the ear temperature of baby bonobos. We're doing a whole suite of studies that looks at how the bonobo's emotions are different to chimps. When you get upset, the temperature of the right side of your brain goes up and hence, the temperature in your right ear.

We're predicting that in certain situations, chimps are going to be more reactive than bonobos.

Theoretically, we have a machine that's supposed to make taking the ear temperature really easy.

At the end of the day the score was pretty much, bonobos- 1, Vanessa - 0

Thursday, September 27, 2007

train back on the rails

Ok, everything's back on track. The babies had sex 10 times in 6 different positions within 10 minutes of feeding time. Looks like I've got a study after all. When I stop coding in a few weeks I'll go in and take some pics.

Tory is on fire at the moment. Her drool collection is growing ever larger, and she has now started her reversal learning where bonobos have to guess what food the cup is under and quite frankly i have no idea what her study means or what it's for. But today she did a little dance around the house, so I guess it is going well. Here she is, triumphant with Suzie, her very bright Congolese assistant.

Brian is doing what Professors do best, and that is sit around the house in the air conditioning frantically writing papers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Murphy's law

I can’t even talk about my baby sex study. Someone tell me why it is that you can observe a behaviour every day for a week, then as soon as you pull out a video camera and a coding sheet, the behaviour just stops.

Brian and Tory suggested maybe the babies were less horny because it was cloudy today.

Thanks guys.

Today Manono went swimming.

Noki ate a water lily

Semendwa had sex with Salonga. I’m pretty sure Salonga orgasmed. She was on top.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bonking baby bonobo study

My pilot day of baby bonobo sex went great.

I guess I should make it a little legit so you don’t think I’m a pervert. These are my questions and relevant hypothesis.

Question 1

  1. Bonobo socio sexual behaviour is only learned through interacting with adults
  2. Bonobo socio sexual behaviour is present from early in life and emerges as they learn to use genital contact to soothe their anxiety.

Question 2
Bonobos are hypersexual to chimpanzees even during infancy.
Bonobos and chimpanzees do not differ in their socio sexual behaviour until after infancy.

Now that I’ve sounded scientific – this is the coding sheet I’ve come up with to code the various sexual behaviour based on what I saw today:

I’ve called the positions:

  1. missionary
  2. doggy
  3. sitting sex
  4. upright dog
  5. almost 69

Of course in the actual paper these will be called ventro-ventro intercourse and ventro-posterior intercourse, but I have to have names I’ll remember to start with.

So far, Vanga is the horny one and had sex with everyone at least once.

The new baby is too cute for words.

She has cuts on her thighs where her restraining rope cut into her and a bald patch on her arms where the other cord was tightened. She’s not drinking any milk. She acts like she doesn’t know what it is. She looks in good health but she’s really thin under all that hair. I hope she makes it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The many moods of Tatanga

I should hate him. He throws mud at me. Refuses to be tested. Routinely bullies and beats up Kikwit, my favourite bonobo of all time. And yet... I'm mesmerised by his beauty. He is in every article I publish, he hangs on my wall lifesized, I think I have around, say, a million photos of him. Oh yes, it's hard not to be a little in love with Tatanga. Here he is in all his capricious moods.

new baby co,ing along well. will post pics soon. starting new study tomorrow, officially called prepubescent bonobo sociosexual frequency study, unofficially called baby bonobo bonking study. more later

Sunday, September 23, 2007

New baby arrived

The new baby arrived today at 8:30 in the morning. She comes from Lodja, a particularly troublesome spot in the middle of Congo where they eat bonobos. So her parents were killed and the hunters were trying to sell her as a pet.

There have been 5 baby bonobos confiscated from Lodja in the last few weeks. Two are dead. Two are now here, and there is another one arriving soon.

The staff here have given the new baby the most impossible name: Katakokombe. I'm never going to remember it. It's a town in Congo. All the bonobos here are named after a village in Congo. It's a neat trick because everyone who comes gets attached to the bonobo named after their home town. It reminds the Congolese that you can't find bonobos anywhere else, and that they, as much as anyone, also belong to Congo.

Katakokombe seems in good health. She didn't much like her bath.

But she eats like a little pig.

I didn't disgrace myself by getting all teary because the worst is over for her. It's only going to get better from here. Lomela gave her a friendly squeal when she saw her in the vet block. Kata
squealed back and the mamas said Lomela was asking for the latest Lodja gossip. It was really cute.

We spent all afternoon watching the bonobos. I realised how lucky they are to have made it here safely. I hope Kata grows up healthy and strong. I hope she makes new girlfriends and beats all the boys up.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Food for sex

Today we started my special study - food for sex. I want to see if i give the male an apple, whether the female will have sex with him to get the food. I want to know more about the role of sex in bonobo society - how they use it and why, and I suspect the females use it as a tool. The food for sex hypothesis hasn't been shown experimentally before, I don't think, so this will be interesting.

I did two pairs today. Malou (brian's favourite bonobo ever, even though she is a little tramp and flirted shamelessly with Michel, the young handsomeFrenchman who was here last time) and Kabulu.

Within 30 seconds Malou had sex with Kabulu and took the apple. This was Kabulu's face when she took it.

My next pair, Kikkers, his real name is Kikongo, but we call him Kikkers because he's such a goof ball.

Was with Likasi. Normally she and Kikkers have sex like crazy. Yesterday Likasi put his penis in her mouth. Today, nada. rien. zippo. They were like a pair of nuns.So the score is 1-1

Here is Likasi showing her normal libido, having sex with Api. Api is on top.

No baby yet. We think he is coming tonight on the 18:00 flight.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A new World Record

New baby not here yet. Anne Marie said tomorrow night.

Catalyst on the ABC showed a segment on our research last night:

Today Tory collected 20 bottles of bonobo drool. She has 40 so far. This makes Tory the richest scientist in bonobo drool on the planet. In fact, we are tempted to contact Guiness and add a category, Owner of Most Bonobo Drool.

But it hasn’t all been roses. Bandundu refused to give drool today and just kept biting the syringe. Then when Tory gave her the cotton pad with sugar on it, Bandundu used it to wipe her bottom.

We finished the babies with the photo study today. We’re not sure yet if they prefer the stranger bonobo to the familiar, but today Chilenge waggled her clitoris over a photo of Manono, the big handsome male in group 1. Then she insisted I pat her clitoris before she continued with the study. Seriously, people look at me like I’m weird when I tell them about patting bonobo genitals being part of experimental procedure, but in the end it’s like, do you want the data or not?

Makali is better, thanks to all the concerned folks who keep emailing me about him! He's back in the enclosure and suitably chastened. In fact, I think he's much nicer now...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

New orphan tommorrow

A new baby arrives tomorrow. It’s coming from Lodja, the same place Lomela comes from. I spoke to Crispin, Lola’s vet, about it and he said stopping the bushmeat trade is impossible until people aren’t starving. Culturally, the Lodja people eat bonobos like we eat cows.

We know eating cows is bad, in terms of methane which feeds greenhouse gases, the environmental impact of cutting forests to grow grass, not to mention the food miles on it. But when was your last steak? Mine was a week ago.

So as Crispin pointed out, if we who are educated with dozens of other food options, still munch on steak, how are you going to tell men who can’t afford an egg, not to hunt the only free source of protein their family has?

So the baby arrives tomorrow. Even though I know what I know. It’s still going to break my heart.

Today Lomela smiled at me for the first time. It was beautiful.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oral sex - a human invention?

Mystique came back. She’s the dog that lives on the chicken farm next door and everyone calls her Mystique because she appears out of nowhere and then disappears. Her foot had been caught in an antelope snare and the wire had cut so tightly into her paw the flesh had healed around it.

Brian cut the knot and pulled it out, a perfect circle. It must have been incredibly painful, having a noose around your limb that cuts into your flesh so severely that soon it becomes part of you.

It happens to chimps and bonobos all the time. Except the wire gets so tight their hands and feet become gangrenous and fall off. At a field site in Uganda, half the chimps have snare injuries.

Mystique looked better after we pulled out the wire. Except then Luozi, the little punk in the nursery, chased her into the forest

Today I had a new one. Mwanda jumped on my shoulders, wrapped her arms around my head and tried to push her clitoris in my mouth. I didn’t let her. But I was so shocked I nearly yelled at her and that would have been a big mistake. Here is Mwanda and her rogue clitoris.

Tory has seen heaps of oral sex during her tests. Today Isiru touched the clitoris of Lukaya with her mouth. Yesterday it was Kikongo and Malou. The day before it was someone else.

It cracks me up because humans think we’re so inventive and original with all our sexual activity. Bonobo champion Prof. Frans de Waal saw quite a bit of bonobo oral sex. Brian said he saw a photo in a de Waal lecture and it got him interested in bonobos. Some scientists said de Waal's bonobos only had oral sex because they were in a zoo enclosure with nothing better to do. Well, these bonobos aint in a zoo - they live in a 35 hectare forest and they still do it plenty.

Today Vanga tried to pickpocket Yvonne.

But she forgave him because you can’t be mad at someone this cute.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Luisa the pin up girl

We started the picture study. The idea is, we give the bonobos a choice between two photos, a stranger and someone they know. We’re predicting the bonobos will prefer the stranger, and look/ touch/ sniff their photo more while the chimps will be afraid of the stranger and spend more time with the photo of someone familiar.

Secretly, I think this study is kind of dumb but we’ll see if anything interesting happens.

We tested 3 baby bonobos today. So far they were all more interested in Luisa, the little girl from the Leipzig Zoo than Mbano who they know. Iolo was so fascinated with Luisa that he was kissing her picture and masturbating with his foot.

My bite is better but it is still really really itchy!

Makali is also getting better but this morning we saw Kaza, one of the adult males, alone in the forest with a giant bite on his back. It was probably Makali, they don’t get along so well, being bonobo males. Either that or the females again. Jay-sus.

Today, Tatanga has sex with Semendwa, with partial involvement from Ilebo and Semendwa's baby.

A train has derailed near group 2 and it’s been there for 3 days.

Matadi used the grass near the lake as a waterslide.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The rope test -- video

This is the rope test, or officially, gregariousness. Basically there are two ropes spread apart. We want to see whether bonobos want to play with a human experimenter or just by themselves. I like this clip because it's the two bad boys, Luozi and Kindu. Watch my face when Kindu decides to plonk his wet dirtiness all over me.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

a bonobo advantage

So today I got a mystery bite. It was a yellow and black fly sitting on my arm peacefully like it was minding its own business then I brushed it off and there was blood. Now there is this mf bite on my arm and it looks like this.

The bite feels a million degrees hot. I thought it might be a tsetse fly. Valery, the accountant, says if it was yellow it wasn’t a tsetse. Malonga says, definitely it was a tsetse. Valery’s nephew said to look it up on google. So I’m going to google it. I hope I don’t get sleeping sickness (don’t worry mummy, I’m sure it’s not a tsetse fly. But you can google it for me. Yellow with black stripes).

Then this morning Tory couldn’t test because Semendwa-the-bonobo stole Stany-the-keeper’s keys and ran into the forest with them. She still hasn’t brought them back. Semendwa is like a cat burglar. She can steal anything from your person at any time and you won't feel a thing. Once she stole this guy's glasses right off his face.

I get asked a lot whether bonobos are better than humans in any way. Usually I have a very long answer but I’ve narrowed it down. The female clitoris. Firstly, it is really big. It’s so long, a female can wrap it around my finger. If our clitorises were as easy to find as a bonobo females, I think there would be a lot less problems world over.

Also the clitoris is oriented ventrally towards the stomach so the missionary is presumably more pleasurable than it is for us. Also when the females get together, G-G rubbing looks like it feels good.

Here is Maya looking especially cute

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bonobos drool for Tory

Today the Korean film crew left. I was just getting used to them filming every single move we made. Seriously, every time I bent over or ate an apple, there they were, filming. So far they have over 1,700 hours of tape to make a 2 hour program. They are the nicest film people we have worked with. Film people tend to be pushy and demanding. I know because I used to be one of them. Sung Jun and Shin are really quiet and polite.

But then yesterday Shin told us about filming a Hollywood lion and as he was filming the lion was swatting his testicles with his long clawed paw. Shin kept filming. That’s what I like about the Koreans. Understated shutzpah.

Tory just started her drool test. It involves collecting saliva to analyse the hormones. She wants to see how the hormones of chimps vs bonobos change while their feeding. The prediction is that chimps will become more stressed when they’re feeding and that bonobos won’t be.

Today, Mwanda chased a chicken

Then hung out with Lomela.

Kasonga went swimming.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Into the forest

We went into the forest with the Korean film crew. It was amazing. The best thing about it was to see all the bonobos in the trees. Most bonobos, after their parents are shot, end up either dead or in someone’s house as a pet. They grow up alone and die young. Somehow, for these few, their luck changed and they end up here at Lola in an amazing forest where they have space and trees and food.

All the staff here have a connection with the bonobos that you can’t find anywhere else. Most of them know every bonobo since they were babies and there is a confidence and trust that is really touching.

I am probably most impressed with Crispin. For a bonobo, he is the equivalent of a dentist. He stabs them with needles, shoots them with darts loaded with anaesthetic, operates on them which leaves them sore and in pain. You’d expect they would run a mile when they see him coming. Or at least throw a few punches when he gets close enough. But the bonobos love him. He delivers their babies, gives them medicine when they are sick, and takes their temperature when they are feverish. He has an extremely gently way about him that seems to calm them.