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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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Over 30,000 bonobo handshakes

Well, this blog has been running for just under 8 weeks and already we've have 32,000 people visit. This has absolutely blown me away. I thought maybe a couple hundred people would come through and learn something about bonobos, but the sheer amount of interest has left me excited and touched.

You've all been super supportive and I have been close to tears with how truly wonderful people can be, even all the way across the world. Today, I want to revist some of the hundreds of comments that you guys have sent, and answer them as best I can.

From An educated man
wanharris said...

Where will he go -- I know you can't take any more but what will happen to the little guy -- I just don't know how you cope!!! it is horrible to see the forest go and the chimps homeless! did he take him to another place is there a chance for the little chimp?

Hi Wan,
It's a Catch 22 . The biggest problem with baby chimps and bonobos is that the poachers think they can sell them. JGI can't take any more chimps or the ones they have will start to suffer. And unfortunately, there is nowhere else for them to go. I think what will happen is that the man who bought him might keep him for a few years and then try and sell him to a lab or a zoo. It's tough, really tough. And I don't do the coping. It's the people in charge of the sanctuaries who have to look the baby chimp in the face and turn them away that have to live with the choice. Chimpanzees aren't dogs, you just can't throw them in a big group and expect them to all get along. They grow up, they start to get violent, and it takes extreme amounts of time and money to make sure they don't end up tearing each other to pieces.

From Chimpanzees are not dogs

slb said... Excellent, excellent post, Vanessa. I would add that everyone should buy only products that are cruelty free, and carefully research any drugs your doctor prescribes - a lot of chimpanzees are used for all sorts of product and pharmaceutical research. I believe the HSUS puts the number of chimps in testing facilities in the U.S. at 1,300. THIRTEEN HUNDRED.

All those adverts that feature animals in some human incarnation make my blood boil. Don't even get me started on the circus ...

Dear slb,
As of March this year, the NIH (National institute of Health) has permenantly banned breeding of laboratory chimps. This is fantastic news, as chimps in labs can be horribly abused, even just by sitting completely alone every day for their entire 50 years.

The problem is, people who depend on chimpanzees for medical and psychological research are going to have to find a new source. Where will they go? Will they buy baby chimps from Africa then set up in a country with no regulations for welfare, like China or Lebanon?

Keep your ears open folks. When the current population of laboratory chimps starts to die, things are going to get interesting.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm going to be the devil's advocate here. How is your interaction with the chimps any different than anyone else's? Plus I don't recall you mentioning that Marcel was used in the entertainment industry, therefore perhaps this indicates that there is no difference. I do enjoy your posts, however you have to realize that you are not a chimpanzee or a bonobo yourself. Your interaction with these monkey's is the same as any human interaction (minus the ones that are beating the monkeys).

Dear Devil's advocate,
Thank you so much for your comment. I think your perception of researchers is a common one, especially about researchers in sanctuaries. Thank you for sharing.

The difference between researchers who work in sanctuaries and people who have chimps as pets (incl. those who work in the entertainment industry) is

1. Sanctuary chimps live in a huge forests with other chimps. They live in a natural social group, forage trees for fruit, and live similarly the way they do in the wild. Pet chimps grow up alone, in a confined space, with humans. They are often heavily disciplined to control them when they start behaving the way they would in a forest, ie. breaking the family china

2. Sanctuary chimps are orphans. Their mothers were shot in the bushmeat trade. Pet chimps were forcefully taken from their mothers so they could be handreared to be more human like

3. Sanctuary chimps will live their whole lives in a forest with other chimps just like them. There is a chance that in the future they will be released back into the wild.
Pet chimps grow to about 7 or 8 and then they become unmanagable and violent. They are then sent to biomedical facilities or somewhere similar to live out the rest of their 40 years in a cage.

4. Pet chimps fuel the pet trade in Africa, and sanctuaries stop it. Because once a chimpanzee is forcefully confiscated from poachers, there has to be somewhere to put them, unless you want to shoot them in the head.

If you want to know more about sanctuaries and why they exist, and how and why we do research there, go to

From Happy birthday mummy
Anonymous said...

Hey Vanessa,
Why is it that Bonobos never have any STI's???? If humans were to behave this way in hunter gather societies of prehistoric times they would have been wiped out long ago. Prior to the advent of antibiotics even a urinary tract infection could kill. PID, Syphilis, viral illnesses just to name a few would have had devestated effects on human populations. Thoughts?

Hi Anon,
Bonobos have these cauliflower warts all over their penises. So this could be an STI that bonobos have. We know that other primates have STIs. But there really hasn't been any research on lethal STIs in bonobos. But interestingly enough, chimpanzees get HIV, but it doesn't develop into AIDS and kill them, like it does in humans. So one idea is that chimps have lived with HIV for so long that their immune system has evolved to handle it.

From Across the Congo river
Obi-wan Cenody said...

I'm curious, do the bonobos or chimps recognize you when you return after being gone for several months? And do you actually believe there ever could be a Planet of the Apes?

Bonobos and chimps recognise people as easily as we recognise them. So while at the start we look the same, after you work for them for a while, they remember you. So Tambikisa, a chimp who was only 3 last year, hasn't seen me for 12 months but when I walked into the forest she jumped into my arms and sucked on my cheek, even though she is gigantically fat now and nearly broke my arms. The chimps I didn't know took I lot longer to approach me.

By Planet of the Apes, do you mean a bunch of chimps that live like people, driving cars, eating with chopsticks etc? I don't think so. Apes are not humans. They never will be. Something changed in us, millions of years ago that allowed us incredible creativity and flexibility. What our research is interested in looking at is what changed and why.

From Kata is better
Jerolyn said...

I'm with anonymous, WHAT exactly DO you do with the spiders(and their million babies)? Obviously they are too large to SMACK with a shoe, throw a shovel at it perhaps? eeewww I am so freaked out by that picture yet I keep looking at it to make sure I'm still THAT freaked out about it.....and that would be a YES!

Hey Jerolyn,

Check out this...

It was gigantic. It had giant mandibles (mouthparts) and a stinger in its mouth and its bum. It took 4 hours for it to die. This is the can of insecticide it took to kill it.

From Kikwit
Anonymous said...

Saw this online you really masturbate them?? or this faulty reporting?

"They also communicate through touch, but while infants want cuddles for reassurance, older bonobos require the researchers to masturbate them during scientific tests. "When we have them in the testing room and they don't understand what's going on, they will scream and screech. They have a high-pitched voice and will waggle their crotch towards us. At the beginning I thought, 'Do we really have to?' But it's more like if we don't do it now they will not do the test.

"It calms them down, it regulates tension, it reassures them that you are friendly and that you have friendly intentions and you won't hurt them."

Weeeeeeeeell, it's not so much we give them a hand job, its more that the girls want to g-g rub you and if you hold out your hand they will drag their clitoruses across it a few times, and the boys just want a reassuring pat on their penis. Does that count?

From Playing ball
Jason J. Loya said...

This is extraordinary. As you said above, I had never heard of these guys before. Is there any way a species like this could be relocated (partially of course) to a different area of the world so they could breed and grow in number? I feel like intelligent relatives such as these should not be threatened due to man made war. Could they live somewhere else outside of captivity? In any case, this is a really cool blog. A rare gem with some wonderful, interesting, and valuable content. Thank you!

Bonobos only live in the Democraic Republic of Congo, and are very specifically evolved to live in this area. Relocating them to another part of the world would be like chucking an Amazonian river dolphin into a bathtub and expecting them to survive.

Having said that, Lola ya bonobo sanctuary is working on a release project, to release some of the Lola bonobos back into the wild. Hopefully, if all the bonobos die out (heaven forbid), there will be a reserve population. Much like the wolves in Yellowstone National Park.

From Uh oh...

Well, now that your mother has seen the blob, she knows that she can start worrying as of this very second about ebola, about rebels with machetes... Actually, there is no point in worrying because nothing has ever stopped you from living life passionately. I shall celebrate quietly with a gin and tonic when I hear that you are back safe and sound from Kinsasha, yet again.

Your mother.

It's a BLOG mum. Not a blob. A BLOG.