Lola ya Bonobo

On the last Sunday and last full day in Kinshasa, we went with a group of friends to a large Catholic church, and then afterwards drove out of town to visit Lola ya Bonobo, a sanctuary for orphaned Bonobos, one of the few great ape species. The drive was quite nice and offered a perspective of the outskirts of the city. The joke of the drive was that Othy asked at one point whether he had to go left or right (though it was more like left or straight), and his friend responded with “On continue” or “We continue” in English. From then on we kept joking around with the phrase. The last few kilometers to the sanctuary were on dirt roads. We stopped at a roadside market near our destination where we bought some tasty fruit called Mangosteen (this is the English term). It was so deliciously sweet and juicy!

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Once at the sanctuary we got our tickets for $5 each inside a little gift shop. I’m not sure if I got a break because we explained that Othy and I are engaged or if the clerk was just pulling our strings that there was an international and a local price. We sat down in the welcome pavilion and got a very quick introduction about the Bonobo before proceeding on the tour. Bonobos are a great ape species in the genus “Pan” that are closely related to the Chimpanzee and are the closest relative to human beings. They are only found in the DRC. The differences between Chimpanzees and Bonobos are that Chimpanzees are larger and more aggressive and male-dominated, while Bonobos are slightly smaller, more peaceful, and female-dominated. They live in small communities that are slightly matriarchal. Females only give birth about once every 5 years because they spend 4 years nursing their infants. They are endangered due to the destruction of their habitats and poaching for bushmeat.The Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary is 75 acres and has 60 bonobos. They save orphaned infant bonobos often found in markets, nurse and rehabilitate them into the protected Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, and then sometimes release them into another site in the wild called Ekolo ya Bonobo.

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We were taken on a walking tour around the sanctuary with a group of 20-30 people to see the bonobos from various vantage points. It was very cool to see the bonobos up close, though it was unfortunate to have a substantial fence in between. Although bonobos are peaceable among themselves, I imagine that the large groups of visitors that come through can be overwhelming and likely stimulates some aggression. At one of the viewing areas there were two bonobos dragging tree branches. One of them threw dirt at us and I got some in my eye (that will forever be a first)! I was glad that I wore good shows because the walk was 3km and there were some areas where we had to climb and descend some hills. I enjoyed being in nature and having an opportunity to do some walking since most of my movements within Kinshasa were in a car.

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The last stop on our tour was to see the nursery for infant bonobos. It was in an inclosed area with a playground for the bonobos and a few small trampolines behind a glass viewing area. Our tour-guide explained to us that each baby bonobo is assigned to a human Mama who interacts with them and feeds them by bottle for five years until they are introduced into the protected bonobo community. What a strange and interesting job that would be! Three bonobos have been born in the “wild”, which shows that the project to rehabilitate the orphaned bonobos is succeeding.

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At the end of the walk there was a river with a small waterfall that leads to a beach picnic area. There was a little island in the river with bamboo table and chairs and a bamboo bridge accessing it. It was a beautiful spot surrounded by palms, grasses, and bamboo shoots. We stayed there for a bit and took some photos together. I loved seeing things built from local materials. After leaving the sanctuary we had lunch at a restaurant that had a beach and picnic pavilions on the other side of the river. Unfortunately because of poor communication we ordered two very overpriced meals of tilapia and fries that were definitely not worth the money! I advise anyone else visiting here to bring a picnic lunch instead! Overall it was an enjoyable day in great company! I was glad to have the chance to visit Kinshasa and meet some of Othy’s friends and colleagues who welcomed me so warmly.

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One Comment to “Lola ya Bonobo”

  1. Thanks for the post and the images. Now I have a new word to add to my vocabulary: bonobos. And congratulations to you and Othy! So glad I was able to meet him.

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