First captive bonobos released into the wild

Jeremy Hance
June 16, 2009

A group of 17 orphaned bonobos are being released into the wild for the first time this month. Set free by the world’s only bonobo sanctuary, Lola ya Bonobo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the bonobos will be released into a 50,000 acre (20,000 hectare) forest where the species has been absent for years.

"The release of bonobos back into the wild will be the pinnacle of all we have accomplished," said Claudine Andre, president of Les Amis des Bonobos Du Congo, which runs the sanctuary. "For the last 15 years, we have worked tirelessly on education and conservation – this is the most important step of all."

While it looks similar to a chimpanzee, the bonobo behaves quite differently. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The bonobos will be monitored by American researchers, led by Catherine Workman, a graduate student at Duke University, Richard Wrangham of Harvard, and anthropologist Brian Hare, also from Duke.

"We'll be monitoring the social behavior and feeding habits of the bonobos as they adjust to life back in the wild," said Hare. "We are curious to see how they adjust to their new lifestyle because it will give us valuable information about how flexible they are behaviorally since none of them grew up in the wild. Of course we will also be closely monitoring their health so that we can intervene if any bonobos have problems adjusting."

Bonobos are most closely related to chimpanzees and humans. They are the least studied of the apes, though they are known for their largely peaceful egalitarian society, as opposed to chimps which have been observed hunting and killing other chimps, even participating in war-like practices against other chimp groups. While chimps are run by males, bonobo society is female dominated and frequently employs sexual activity—both heterosexual and homosexual—to resolve conflicts.

Bonobos are listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. Endemic to the DRC, they are threatened by habitat loss and bushmeat hunting. The released bonobos have found protectors in the local people near the release site: they have agreed to work to prevent hunting of these rare apes.

"This exciting event reminds us of the importance of every individual bonobo, and is a critical step on the path towards raising awareness of the plight of bonobos and the opportunities to help them," Wrangham said.

For more information: Lola Ya Bonobo blog

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (June 16, 2009).

First captive bonobos released into the wild.