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The Return of Bonobos

  • 05/21/09
  • Valentin

It’s as if the spirit of Papa Bosco Ikwa is with us! After a long period of searching fruitlessly for bonobos, out with our tracking team we have located a group of 13 individuals -- 4 males and 6 females carrying two juveniles and a baby.

Bonobos are not like mountain gorillas, which live in a fairly stable group led by a dominant silverback. They live in a fission-fusion society -- groups divide and new ones form on a regular basis. The females are considered dominant, with males staying with their mothers for life while females can move from group to group.

Bonobos are peaceful, and they like to eat especially fruit; though it is hard to see precisely through the dense forest, it looks like this group is busy eating Gambeya lacourtiana (Bofambu in the Lomongo dialect). We watch them snack until about 5:25 pm, then decide to leave them in peace so they can construct their nests. Each night, bonobos make a sleeping nest from branches and leaves, usually nesting with the group they are traveling with.

Valentin trekking for bonobos in the lomako forest

The following morning, we return and note that the bonobos had built their nests far up in the trees. This is not uncommon, but we hope we have not disturbed them and driven them so high. On waking they see us but show no fear, easily moving about, which is a good sign for our habituation efforts. They begin to eat the fruit of the trees where they have constructed their nests. After observing the group for some time, we gather the feces around the area so we can analyze its food composition.

Our fecal analysis reveals that the bonobos ate not only Gambeya lacourtiana, but also Musanga cercopioides (Boonga); Ficus sp (Lokumo); Polyalthia suavolens (Bolinga); Treculia african (Boimbo) and the young stems of Haumania (Bekombe). (Another time, I will show you pictures of these local plants.) That’s quite a good variety. After having gone so long without seeing bonobos we were concerned that a lack of food had kept them from the research area.

Bonobo spotted in the canopy of the forest

Though there is plenty to do in the camp even if bonobos are not present or are difficult to locate, a special feeling hangs in the air after the trackers have located a group and spent time studying them. This latest sighting has visibly lifted the tracker’s spirits. The loss of Papa Bosco Ikwa just two weeks ago has taken its toll. Our work gives us the feeling of carrying on his legacy.

We look forward to the time when others might travel here for the privilege of seeing these unique great apes in the forest. Until then I hope my notes will give you a good idea of what our work here is like. Let’s hope for more bonobo sightings soon.

About the Author

Valentin blogs about bonobos and conservation from one of the wildest places on earth: the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- and the remote Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve. Pivotal in establishing the Lomako Reserve in 2006, Valentin now oversees bonobo research from the new AWF conservation science camp here. Thanks to a satellite internet connection, Valentin brings the Lomako forest and the fascinating world of bonobos to you.

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