Friday, January 18, 2008
Bon Au Beau
At the moment, my life is utterly boring. Apart from going to work, working, coming back from work and thinking about work, nothing much is happening. So why not reflect on happier times when I roamed freely through the Congolese Jungle and discovered this tribe of apemen. Allright, they weren't apemen and they weren't living freely in the jungle either - not yet. So here are the promised pictures of our distant cousins, the Bonobos, in the Bonobo political asylum of Lola Ya Bonobo west of Kinshasa.
As you can see, they live behind wires, but this is by no means a zoo. The centre is built on an island or peninsular surrounded by a river. You can spot Bonobos if they feel like coming to the fences, otherwise you'll only hear them in the woods.
Spot the Bonobo: we heard them, but we couldn't see them with the naked eye. With my 200mm zoom lens at maximum I finally found this male Bonobo resting on a branch.
They have all the facilities they could dream off.
This fellow made a huge display when we approached.
The local population is actively involved in the conservation and reintroduction effort. It is very important for the future of the animals that Congolese people understand how wonderful but vulnerable the Bonobos are. At first, the plans for the implantation of the centre were met with scepticism from the locals, but because they were involved from the beginning, they are very supportive. And it also gives them a source of income.
This female looks as if she's had quite a life behind her. Most animals here are saved from poachers, often as very young babies that were taken away after their mothers were shot for bushmeat. Hunting Bonobos is illegal, and trading them as well, but in a country like Congo 'law and order' is as real as a Star Trek episode.
That baby boy is really exhausting her, look at her face. I guess it's a boy, don't ask me why...
This is the... well known... Bonobo beatle. Yes, that's right. I discovered it and called it Criterus Nonsensis Bartii.
The park is surrounded by a stream and has dense vegetation where the Bonobo families can hide. If they don't want to be seen, you won't see them, but they know the people that take care of them and will generally come out when they call. Until they're fed up with visitors - and photographers - that is.
Bonobos are masters in flower arrangements, apparently.
Eating the Bonobos is strictly forbidden, which is a shame as there is no snackbar on the premisses. Bonobos and many other animals in Congo are on the brink of extinction, not in the least because of the armed conflicts of the last decade. Poor farmers fled into the tropical forest and had no other means of survival than what the forest could provide. And for poor people, bush meat is often the only meat they can afford, apart from the odd chicken. There's also a lively trade in bushmeat between the countryside and the big cities.
Taking pictures isn't easy here, most animals can only be seen from a long distance and there's always a wire fence in between.
In these buildings, the baby orphans are raised by a group of human volunteers that act as foster parents. It's a very demanding job as the little ones need 24h supervision. The little ones often arrive with a trauma because they saw how their mother and the other members of their family were butchered.
Claudine André, born and bred in Congo, is the person who almost single-handedly raised the centre from the ground. She is friendly but determined, which is exactly what you need when you want to protect wildlife in the middle of an ongoing war.