On June 14 and 28, for the first time ever, a group of 18 orphan bonobos will be returned to the wild.
"We'll be monitoring the social behavior and feeding habits of the bonobos as they adjust to life back in the wild," said Duke anthropologist Brian Hare, who will be leading the monitoring with Richard Wrangham of Harvard.
"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," Hare said. "Of course we will also be closely monitoring their health so that we can intervene if any bonobos have problems adjusting."
Duke graduate student Catherine Workman will be leading the post-release monitoring this summer in the Congo.
The bonobo release will be conducted by Congolese organization Les Amis des Bonobos du Congo (Friends of Bonobos in Congo, ABC) which runs Lola ya Bonobo, the world's only bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bonobos will be released in a 20,000 hectare (50,000 acre) forest near Basankusu in the Equateur region of Congo. The local people have agreed to become the guardians of the released bonobos and to prevent hunting of bushmeat in the forest. "The release of bonobos back into the wild will be the pinnacle of all we have accomplished," said Claudine Andre, the president of ABC in Congo. "For the last 15 years, we have worked tirelessly on education and conservation – this is the most important step of all."
Bonobos, like chimpanzees, are our closest living relative. But, despite their endangered status, bonobos are virtually unknown. Unlike chimpanzees, who are male dominated, frequently hunt and sometimes kill other chimps, bonobos are relatively peaceful. They are female-dominated and use sex to resolve social tension.
Ironically, this peaceful ape only lives in one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been torn apart by almost a decade of war that has killed more than five million people, making it the bloodiest war since World War II.
The reintroduction of wild-born orphans rehabilitated and cared for at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary will hopefully replenish the bonobo populations in forest areas of the DRC where they have disappeared.
"We are thrilled to be involved in this project because of its importance for bonobo conservation," Hare said. "We hope this release will give bonobos a brighter future."
"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.
Vanessa Woods | EurekAlert!
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