Only about 10% of people do, according to Duke evolutionary anthropology professor Brian Hare. By comparison, roughly 90% of people know what a gorilla is.
Bonobos have many remarkable qualities, including the fact they “are the only really peaceful ape,” according to Hare. “They don’t kill each other.” Bonobos are more closely related to humans than any other kind of ape or monkey. However, bonobos are frequently hunted for pets and for bushmeat.
Hare gave the bonobo primer to introduce renowned conservationist Claudine Andre, widely known as the Jane Goodall for bonobos. Andre spoke as part of the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology's
“Let me bring you in my country,” Andre began. She then described the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the only country bonobos call home.
When Andre and her husband lived in the Congo in the early 90s, their town was looted. Many shops and homes were destroyed, but Andre decided to stay. Someone asked her to visit the local zoo and, says Andre, “I opened the door and my life changed.” She found over 200 animals -- lions, bears, chimps. And no food. “I said to my husband, we have to do something. I have to try to save the zoo.”
Andre managed to find food for the animals and she saved the zoo animals, including a baby bonobo named Mikeno. Eventually, more and more bonobos found their way into her care, and Andre expanded her efforts to protect them.
She discovered that education was her most effective tool. At first, poor orphans who lived in the zoo were very rude to the animals. But with Andre’s positive example, the children grew to respect the animals. Andre has built a bonobo sanctuary, Lola ya Bonobo, which is visited by 30,000 children a year.
Bonobos are only found in the Congo, and Andre has successfully established this as a national point of pride. Awareness about the importance of bonobos is spreading; this year, Andre received 50 bonobos from people who bought them as pets and were convinced by area children that they had made a mistake.
“The education is worth it. I’m sure of this.”
Caring for so many animals is not an easy task. Andre has returned some to the wild, and says that it is very difficult to do. Certain guidelines must be followed, and she wants to make sure that the animals are happy in their new surroundings. She maintains that communication with surrounding people is critical.
“It is 25% about the animal and 75% about contact with the local population.” Andre had to meet with traditional chiefs and ask them not to hunt in the areas where bonobos are reintroduced, in return for help for their villages.
Andre described how it felt to return one of her bonobos to the wild: “It was a fantastic moment for me. So many emotions.” She likened it to a father walking his daughter down the aisle.
Andre and her organization decided not to use collars to track the released bonobos because they are heavy and can get caught on branches. Instead, trackers sit below the nests night and day and monitor the bonobos’ movements from tree to tree.
Currently, sanctuary visitors do not have many opportunities to observe the animals. Andre eventually hopes to purchase a small island, “a new sanctuary where people can go around and see the bonobos.” Bonobos are becoming recognized as an important part of Congolese culture and biodiversity, and it is in large part because of Andre’s efforts.
“I’m so proud to be a symbol of peace for the people,” Andre said.