This blog has moved!

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

sandoa was hungry

her share wasn't enough, apparently.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

salonga pregnant again!

did i ever tell you salonga sometimes catches frogs and hugs and pets them? she would be such a good mum but she keep losing her babies! i really really hope she gets to keep this one!!!!

look at that massive tummy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Catching Fire

Richard Wrangham's new book is out - Catching Fire! Richard works with us at Lola and is in fact the giant cranium behind all our studies. He is in the new york times today

the review says

'“Catching Fire” is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution, one he calls “the cooking hypothesis,” one that Darwin (among others) simply missed.'

Go buy it! I just got my copy yesterday and it's AWESOME!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

sake being sweet

sake is the top bonboo in the nursery now, and she is a right royal terror if you want to go in and get, say, a hug from Kata or Lukuru. As soon as you walk in, Sake will be bungee jumping off your hair. which looks cute but is paainful. anyway, Sake was turning into diva #1 but then guylaine, a lovely French volunteer, sent me this photo. Sake is sharing her food with Lukuru!

Monday, May 25, 2009


i know this is a bonobo blog, but i just had to show you the puppies! a very shy dog at Lola gave birth andher two little dogs are just adorable! they look like caramel and white chocolate.

one of them is twice the side of the other one. we call him Double Stuff and the little one Nini.Double stuff was always pushing Niniaway when they were nursing.

Nini was too cute even for Lukuru! here she is giving Nini a big wet sloppy kiss.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

anyone in ohio?

ok, i know this isn't much warning, but if anyone is in columbus, ohio this thursday night, Claudine (and me) will be at the PASA conference. the dinner tommorrow night is open to the public at the OSU Fawcett Center. you can buy tickets online here or at the door.

Worthington Industries Presents: Saving Apes: The role of African sanctuaries
Date:May 21, 2009
Time:7:30 P.M.
Cost:$15.00 per person (all proceeds benefit the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance)
All three species of African great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos) and many other primates are threatened with extinction. The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) is “committed to the conservation and care of African primates through the unique alliance of African sanctuaries.”
In May, 2009, the Columbus Zoo will host delegates from PASA sanctuaries across Africa for their 10th anniversary meeting. This will be the first time the group has met outside of Africa. A public event at the OSU Fawcett Center on May 21, 2009, will feature speakers from several of the sanctuaries, a silent auction of African art from 14 countries, and an opportunity for guests to speak to sanctuary managers about their heroic efforts on behalf of Africa’s endangered apes and monkeys.

Featuring Harvard primatologist Dr. Richard Wrangham and Doug Cress, Executive Director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance

Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door May 21, 2009, at the OSU Fawcett Center.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Anne Marie from Lola wins an award!

The following is a PASA press release - Anne Marie, our nurse who brought Lomela back to health just won the Siddle Marsden award!

A Congolese nurse who travels to remote sections of central Africa to rescue bonobos and once left her family to spend Christmas day nursing an orphaned bonobo back to health has won the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) Siddle-Marsden Award for 2009, given annually to the African caregiver that best exemplifies the spirit of conservation and dedication at primate sanctuaries.

Anne Marie Ngalula works at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which cares for 63 bonobos at its sanctuary facility in Kinshasa.

“PASA is extremely proud to be able to present this award to Anne Marie Ngalula,” said Doug Cress, executive director of PASA. “Anne Marie’s commitment to the conservation and welfare of bonobos is exemplary, and her ability to utilize human medical care on behalf of bonobos is one of the reasons Lola ya Bonobo is so successful at rescuing and rehabilitating this endangered species.”

The PASA Siddle-Marsden Award was created in 2008 to honor the African staff member at a PASA sanctuary that best embodies a commitment to primates, a commitment to conservation, and a commitment to excellence. This year’s award will be presented at the PASA 2009 Management Workshop, which will be staged May 19-21 in Columbus, Ohio, and the winner receives a plaque and a $250 prize.

Mosses Kapia of the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone won the PASA Siddle-Marsden Award in 2008.

The award is named after David Siddle and Stella Marsden, both of whom were pioneers in the field of African primates sanctuaries.

Ngalula’s background in nursing made her a valuable addition to the staff at Lola ya Bonobo, the only sanctuary in Africa that cares for bonobos. Since bonobos tend to prefer women to men, Ngalula is often the only one able to give veterinary care to sick primates, and it is Ngalula who handles everything from injections to recapturing escaped animals.

When an infant bonobo was confiscated after being smuggled into France over Christmas in 2005, it was Ngalula who took charge of the infant’s care. Although the baby was so dehydrated its skin was peeling off, Ngalula cared for the infant – named “Malou” – by applying medical cream to her wounds and rehydrating the infant throughout the holidays.

Despite being terrified of flying, Ngalula has traveled to the most remote sections of DR Congo to rescue bonobos confiscated from poachers and illegal traders, most of whom would have died without her care.

Ngalula is the single mother of three children, yet she spends long hours at Lola ya Bonobo and is steadfast in her commitment to bonobos. When the sanctuary reintroduces two social groups of bonobos back into the wild later this year, Ngalula will be in charge of the veterinary protocols.

Monday, May 18, 2009

chimpanzee dealer jailed in Congo!

A wildlife dealer who tried to sell a chimpanzee in the Republic of Congo has been sentenced to a year in prison and fined 1.1 million Fcfa (USD $2,188), a severe penalty that came about through the dogged work of the Projet Protection des Gorilles (PPG) – Congo and other conservation organizations in the region.

The Brazzaville Court ruled on March 19, 2009, that the dealer had violated Article 49 of the Congolese law, which bans the sale of endangered species in Congo.

The case made headline news in the Congolese newspaper, Les Dépêches de Brazzaville, and was led by the Project to Apply the Law on Fauna (PALF), a consortium that includes PPG-Congo’s parent organization, The Apsinall Foundation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

PPG-Congo is a charter member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), which coordinates activities between primate rescue and rehabilitation centers across Africa.

“The fact that a chimpanzee dealer can not only be arrested and prosecuted but also sentenced to jail for his crimes in Africa is extremely good news,” said Doug Cress, executive director of PASA. “For too long, PASA sanctuaries have had to deal with the confiscated chimpanzees and gorillas of the black market, while the illegal traders go free. But the fantastic results won by PALF can serve as an example for the rest of Africa to follow.”

PALF, which has 10 more cases pending in the Congolese courts, works closely with the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA), an organization that specializes in wildlife crimes and law enforcement from its base in Cameroon. PALF is also supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Servce.

The Congolese Ministry of Forest Economy backs PALF’s work.

Said PPG-Congo coordinator Luc Mathot: “We hope this first case against a wildlife dealer in Republic of Congo will help us for the several next ones.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

welcome home claudine!

after a successful trip into the depths of the Congo wilderness, Claudine is home. all the bonobos were happy to see her and brought their babies to show her and catch up on all the news.

lukuru especially was ready with hugs and kisses.

from Claudine's diary...time to say goodbye

Time to say goodbye. The sun was at the zenith, right above our heads and we still had to walk the 6 kilometres back to the Matoku River and take the pirogue downstream to the confluent with the Lopori. In just one night, the water level had gone down quite a bit! Navigation had been hard enough on the way up!

Just as we were leaving, I bought a wooden guitar “made in Boso-Ngubu”, Pierrot got a hold of it and played us a jazzy improvisation on our way down the river!

A quick stop in Elonda to calculate exactly how much space the chief was willing to grant us, then we headed straight back home! On the way we passed the funeral convoy for that poor little Pôo girl, just 13 years old, whose parents had taken to hospital in Basankusu, but just that little too late, she was already in a semi-coma brought on by meningitis. We had bought all the prescribed medication as quickly as possible but she had succumbed despite the treatment (her lifeless body was laid out in the pirogue). Her father thanked us once again for our generosity. Alas, once again, death had defeated us.

And so, we returned to Kinshasa, images, ideas and smiles still fresh in our minds. But not before reassuring the football team, “The Basankusu Bonobos” that their football shirts and boots, bought for them by the Achour groupe would arrive soon, on our next trip, as well as the first aid kit from Madame Tixier on behalf of the Meulin football team.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

from Claudine's diary...face to face with the hunters

Today we met with the hunters. They were not very reassured. “What do Maman Claudine and Pierrot want from us?” They knew that we had asked for hunting to stop in “Ekolo ya Bonobo”. Were they afraid of our critisism?

We had to reassure them. I already knew that among them I would choose the trackers that would work very close to our bonobos, but at that point we just wanted some precise information on the presence of the Mukumbusu (local name for bonobos) near their villages, beyond the limit of “Ekolo”.

I explained the concept of eco-tourism and the benefit of being so close to Basankusu as well as the chance they would have to work with us on the habituation of a group of wild bonobos in order to bring in further income to the villagers. There was a lot of talk in their own dialect and so Pierrot concluded by asking them to think about it all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

from Claudine's diary...meeting the Po

We could not start the new-year without giving our best wishes to the Ilonga-Pôo population.
We left for two days of navigation on the Lopori and the Matoku Rivers, to reach the harbour for the village of Boso-Ngubu. Alas, as we had no motorbikes we had to walk the 6 kilometres, zigzagging through the village to the house where we were awaited by the groupment chiefs, the “Nkumu” and the “notables” as well as a delegation (mainly men) of the population and tens of children.

The welcome was a usual: warm-hearted. We each gave our best wishes and I made my promises to the Pôo for 2009. The women had prepared fish and duck for us, accompanied by cassava flour cooked as shikwange, a real delight! Following that, thanks to a superb full moon, we stayed discussing may different things with the youngsters and the elders as we sipped on raffia wine, which was a little too alcoholised for my taste.

We spent the night protected by our mosquito nets in a room that the mistress of the house had arranged to make it as comfortable as possible for us. At dawn, the children, already up and about, ready to go to school, were waiting for us impatiently, hoping for yet another photo from Maman Titi Ô. A meeting was planned for 7:30 am. This meeting was supposed to be “informal”, but there were already over a hundred people present. The chairs were all lined up and we soon heard the ringing of the Nkumu’s small bell. He was wearing his necklace bearing 32 leopard teeth. Following him were the more notable members of the population, the school headmasters, the nurse and others yet…

I repeated my best wishes, for those who might have missed them the previous night and I expanded on the ABC’s three promises for the Pôo villages in the coming year. Firstly, the network to allow for a cell phone signal in Boso-Ngubu, (an engineer from Vodacom, who was with us to get his bearings using a GPS device, confirmed that it was going to be possible). I repeated once again the Vodacom was offering the necessary equipment, but that only the technical side of it all would reveal if the forest is too much of an obstacle for the airwaves or not. Wisely, they said they would wait to hear the verdict.

Then came the turn of the nurse (in charge of the two health clinics) to give us the list requested the previous night in order to fulfil our second promise, to give the women a little more comfort when they give birth, starting by a little solar powered lamp and some plastic covered mattresses, much easier to disinfect than the current grass mat. The list wasn’t excessive and I was already planning to post it on the Internet to ask for support from our many far-off friends.

Monday, May 11, 2009

from Claudine's diary...the village chiefs

It was hot, very hot after the rain, our pirogue set-off on the Lopori. On board everyone went about their business: Pierrot was writing a report, Titi Ô was sorting through her photos and at the front “Chacal” was singing a hymn as he scanned the horizon looking for a fisherman who had already made his catch.
We were going to meet the chief of Kodoro to tell him about the plans for our camp in Elonda, opposite the area where the bonobos are to be released. We met at Liyaka, the harbour. The local population had been warned of our arrival… The African tom-tom from the 21st century still worked wonderfully! With the help of Pierrot and Yvon, who speak the language of the Ngombe, we went into a lengthy explanation of bonobos, the release project and why we need the camp.

Three great Nkumus (traditional chiefs) were present and announced that the elders where going to go and discuss it. We waited, surrounded by the women and many children. Titi Ô took some photos and immediately showed them the result on the little screen. It was magic! Lots of laughter as they pushed one another out of the way to get a peek at the image. The children, wide-eyed, pointed at themselves bewildered.

The men soon returned to give us the verdict. Some of the more notable members of the population were to accompany us to Elonda to mark off our “space”. Mission accomplished! The meeting ended as I respectfully thanked the assembly and asked Pierrot to thank the Nkumus as well as to buy some palm wine for the assembly in order to seal our deal.

Back at Elonda we marked off the limits for our future camp as well as a location for a little harbour for our pirogues. On our way back, before sunset, I started drawing up plans for the camp. I peeked over Pierrot’s shoulder and saw that he was doing the same thing. The adventure was to continue, the cogs were in motion and everyone believed in it!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Amazone's family

We met some of Amazone’s family, three young women, her aunts. I told the story and showed them the many photos of their little niece, I told them of her hospitalisation, our hopes, and despite everything, her last moments of joy discovering a new world in which everyone opened their arms to her and a gave a little of the best they could find within.

They too, had their own problems, all three of them single mothers, their children, fathered by soldiers of the army or the militia, who had now moved on… One of them can’t have been older than 17. She was carrying a one-month-old baby (a real beauty!). Suddenly, she started crying as she lifted up her T-shirt to reveal her breasts. We discovered with utter astonishment that her shapeless breasts were gruesomely deformed. The right breast had a large mammary gland at the end (very important during her lactation period) and hung well below her navel. The other breast though less impressive, was none the less extremely deformed! But what really caught my attention was a hard prominent lump, between the two breasts. I anxiously thought about little Amazone with her Burkitt’s lymphoma. I remembered hearing that it was caused mainly by a virus linked to specific human genes as well as a particular geographic situation.

She told me that the swelling in her breasts had begun in the beginning of her pregnancy. Following the birth of her baby, certain complications began to manifest… Here, left to themselves, existing thanks to a field to grow peanuts and a few cat-fish… what more is there to do but to accept and suffer your own bad luck?

In order to help her I met with an old nurse, “Monsieur José”, who, with years of experience had become dentist and even surgeon. We would often see him cycling around the town with two much-used books on his bicycle rack, one on surgery and the other on general medicine. Books, which he calls with the utmost respect, “My professors”! He had been the one to diagnose Amazone’s Burkitt’s Lymphoma and the treatment he administered even gave fantastic results but unable to supply a third round of chemotherapy he had to watch the tumour come back with all it’s might. He promised me he would see the young woman to make a diagnosis

I really admire these legendary men and women, mostly forgotten today but who have devoted their lives to staying close to those who have nothing and especially have found the strength to give their love and comfort to those around them. Here, in the middle of nowhere, in what is pompously called “a town” but is more like an abandoned agglomeration. How can we close our eyes to accept the fact that there is nothing much that we can do?!… I have yet to find the strength for that, at the moment I am not well equipped! In the meantime, with a low heart having discovered, yet again, such human distress, I had to get back to reality.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

from Claudine's diary...Kodoro

We needed to do more than to find a dream spot along the Lopori to set up our camp and start building castles in the sky! So the following day we set off for Kodoro to meet the chief of the group of villages that Elonda is a part of. The expedition began under a threatening sky. Never mind! We didn’t have time to wait for better weather!

We also spent a day increasing awareness in one of the big secondary schools in Basankusu. Six hundred students were waiting for us in the school-yard. It was 11 am… we were almost bang-on the equator, there were no shadows to be seen! We did a presentation followed by questions and answers lasting two hours overall, with teenagers who, like all other teenagers in the world, did not want to make it easy for us.

After Pierrot had greeted the assembly, I immediately set about defusing the palpable tension due to the presence of a white woman among them. I am used to it by now, I needed to let them know that I was not just another “Strange visitor passing through” but a “Mwana Mboka”, as we say here, a child of the country. A bit of banter, which went down well and the use of a jargon equivalent to theirs, something, which these Africans, with all their prejudgements, never expect. That’s the secret of my communication. They were not African children from Basankusu, but teenagers, without a label of colour or race and with the same attitudes as those from all around the world.

And it worked! After a few minutes, Pierrot and I were taking it in turns to answer the multitude of questions that they had. What enthusiasm! The sun beat down on us all and eventually the headmaster told us we should leave, or else we would be there till nightfall! The children from the biochemistry section followed us with one last question, and another…and yet another… “Mission accomplished!” stated Pierrot dabbing his forehead with a tissue. We promised to come and visit the school again, class by class, the following week. In the meantime I promised three copies of my book “Une Tendresse Sauvage” to the students in their final year, offering to come back a few weeks later to discuss it. A good opportunity to knock down the wall of tenacious prejudgements.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

from Claudine's diary...Elonda

On our way back to Basankusu, we stopped of in Elonda, a little village, camp to some fishermen, along the Lopori, just opposite our release site. I really like this place where the people are so hospitable! The chief of the camp helped us to pick-out a nice spot to set-up our camp. “That’s decided then!” exclaimed Pierrot, on the following thursday we would go and meet the higher chief in Kodoro to come to an agreement so we can settle our camp in Elonda.

We got back at nightfall, happy to get rid of our boots, soaked with water. That night, I started to dream of the wild bonobos that apparently still live on the other side of the Molambi River, to the north of our new “reserve”.

“Tell me, Pierrot, what if we planned a habituation project for the wild bonobos, with the Pôo from the village of Boso-Ngubu?” He looked at me wide-eyed, like a chess player who hadn’t seen a move coming! But I continued to explain my wild idea and willingly he hopped into my little dream! “How lucky you are!” said Titi Ô : “Neither Dominique, nor Valery are here to pull you out of the clouds!”… Without wasting any time, I decided to go to the village to meet the people to see if this new dream, which to me was becoming a new plan, would be in any way feasible… As my friend Priscilla Talmon would say, “Just like Alexandra David-Néel ( French explorer, first western woman to enter forbidden Tibet and reach Lhassa, the capital, in 1924.) you too, will ask to have you passport renewed at the age of 101!” Moving on… or “OKA” as would say Titi Ô, (‘onwards’ in the Gabonese language!)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

from Claudine's diary...Eleke

With some help from France, we had been able to buy the official textbooks for their little school, some blackboards and the other didactic supplies. It was exam period, and we took the teachers and students by surprise in the middle of a lesson. Pierrot, who had visited before, made the most of the opportunity by giving another little presentation. I congratulated the girls who were in school. When it comes to large families, they do not have the same opportunities as the boys do. The atmosphere was joyful and the children sang songs to the glory of the bonobos, who had brought them these new books

We were caught off guard by a thunderstorm, so we stayed chatting in a large hut in the middle of the village. As usual I bombarded them with questions to be able to get to know them better. The headmaster had started the primary school by his own initiative, after four years the school welcomed over fifty children, split into four classes. Wanting to learn how to read, even his very young wife had become a student! This year, thanks to our help, the 5th and 6th classes were created following a request from the parents of a neighbouring village, Tokata.

They had already created a parents association. The monthly school fees are 1200 Congolese Francs (2 US$) per child, and the contribution for the four teacher’s salaries is of 1500 CF per term. Of course, only about 50% of the children in the village have the possibility of attending the school. The families have many children and the parents have very little income!

The headmaster dreamed of setting up an evening remedial course for those who wish to learn how to read and write in French. So there I was promising that we would try to help them, by giving them exercise books which are so expensive here to due the cost of transport.

Pierrot and I already had a plan for “bonobo exercise books” for the children in the area. Come on Dominique! Lets get a request for some funding so that these children need no longer write on small scraps of old paper!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

from Claudine's diary...Mombengele

I had to find the precise area where we are to build the electrified fence (by solar power) of the enclosure planned for the arrival on the day of the release. I already had an idea: Last year I saw an old abandoned camp where all the big trees had been felled and it was only 30 metres or so from the river, far enough to be out of sight of the people passing in their pirogues. We walked around the area to estimate the distance with our footsteps: 50m by 30m with a central grove of shrubs. “It’s perfect!”

We went deeper into the forest. To start with we were avoiding puddles of water and then eventually defeated, we trudged on with water up to our knees! The forest was much more swampy than in other periods. Titi Ô could not stop filming, all the while laughing at the “aquatic” misfortunes of one or the other.

We discovered much more solid ground than we had expected. To my surprise we were informed that the rise in water level last year (on which I had based my calculations) had been a year of exceptionally high water! A case, which only occurs every 4 to 5 years! Good news for our bonobos!

With the team: Yvon, who is the liaison for the ABC at the Basankusu office, “Chacal”, our cook, motorcycle driver and much more… and Thomas, his assistant, all native to the area, - we checked out the fruiting plants in the surroundings and the leafy plants that will be the base of the bonobos diet.

Friday, May 1, 2009

from Claudine's diary...Basankusu

6 o’clock in the morning, and the buzz of life had already started half an hour earlier, at dawn. The Lulonga, covered by a thin veil of morning mist, slowly followed by the bottom of the garden of our house and office.

I could hear the song of the fishermen coming from here and there, mixed with those of the other locals who were beginning their morning activities. The gentle cacophony was a real pleasure for my senses. Just above me I saw a little squirrel, fighting to get the rich orange oil out of a palm nut. To simply hear it’s little calls, one could easily have mistaken it for a small bird. The chickens next door were clucking away alongside a cockerel that, thanks to his morning song that had led me to exasperation, had already tired out his voice. Having cast their fishing nets, the young fishermen laughed out loud as they told their childish stories.

The sun was already bringing to life the colours of the landscape. A few minutes later the magic moment that is dawn would be over. I glanced once more at the forest, appearing through the mist in shades of grey, I heard the call of a buzzard or hawk, so similar to that of the fishing eagle. A pigeon cooed as I looked at my empty coffee-cup with the many thoughts of the loaded schedule ahead of me spinning in my mind...

We had arrived the night before, Pierrot and I along with a friend of ours, Christine d’Hautuille of the close-tied association “OKA” and our European association “ABE” (Friends of Bonobos Europe). It was her first time in Basankusu. We first had to go and wish the local authorities well, as well as our friends in the area in order to rapidly organise our trips out onto the river to go and meet with the Pôo population and their neighbours.

Pity! The sun was not with us, “Thank goodness” exclaimed Titi Ô (Christine’s nickname) who had just arrived from paris where the temperature was little over zero degrees!

And so we set off, our pirogue (dug-out canoe) cutting through the waters of the Lopori just past Basankusu. As we approached the Island of Isia, our “official supplier” of raffia palm wine hailed us from the top of his raffia tree! He slowly climbed down, wished us well and poured the contents of his calabash into our cups all ready and waiting in a line! “It will be a good year!” I said laughing at Titi Ô who nodded approvingly as she licked her lips.