Lola Ya Bonobo


All photographs are from this sanctuary (“Paradise for Bonobo” in Lingala, the local language) which is located outside of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Founded by Claudine Andre in 1994, it currently is home to over 50 bonobo.  In addition to the 30 hectares of primary forest, it now includes a relocation site in the Equateur region of Congo for the reintroduction of the bonobo into the wild.  For more information, please see their website at:


The entertaining qualities of a plastic bag, the never ending joys of old water bottles, or the fascinating properties of sticks….
Snake? There was something in the bushes, false alarm or not, it was interesting to watch how all the bonobo came together to investigate.
But my favorite has to be watching Dilolo trying to break the large stick – notice Dilolo ‘pretends’ not to be trying to break the stick when another bonobo came around but then went right back to his efforts afterwards.

Cross species empathy

Vanga, male, b.2004, known as the ‘terror of the nursery’ had come up to the ‘people house’ where he had his first encounter with cats.  He comically tried to entertain one of them, but the other one was sleeping and so Vanga only quietly, softly and gently kissed it’s foot.


On my second day of my first trip I met Claudine Andre, the Director of Lola Ya Bonobo. She pondered a question that affected me profoundly; What if Bonobo had evolved with vocal chords?  It’s obvious to see bonobo are constantly communicating with each other in many other ways than a verbal language and so now I ask -
If a picture is worth a thousand words- could a touch be worth a thousand pictures? Think about it - with all the emails, letters and photographs, isn’t one big hug better than all that?


If I said to you – “I like your shirt” - I would not expect you to take it off and give it to me.
I am giving you a compliment probably also because I like you and I want you to like me. This seems to be the logic when bonobo stare at the food of another bonobo while they are eating. I doubt they are asking for any food, especially because food is all around them. It is merely a complimentary behavior.
(If the look of wanting food is symbolic for something else - does this qualify for symbolism?)

Why are some bonobo bald?

I like this question because there is no answer as of yet; some bonobo in captivity have interesting bald spots. There could be physical reasons (such as delicious mites at base of hair follicles or some nutritional deficiency), or psychological reasons (the alphas seemed to be the most bald, as well as the females who were pregnant or recently gave birth including their babies). My favorite theory is that some of the bonobo see how we humans look and are developing their own ideas of beauty.

Alpha symbolism

Dragging tree branches on the ground is typical- the noisier, the better. Sticks in hand are good as well as other valuable objects, such as empty plastic bottles or large rocks. Items placed on the head - very much like a crown - seem to be saying  “I am the king” and almost always will invite a challenge followed by a good chase


I did not have a good angle to photograph in these shots but it looked like a very interesting fight between the alpha male and the alpha female. 
I love that Tshilomba doesn’t seem to need any physical power - the look she can give is dangerous enough.

The '400' series

These photographs were taken with a zoom lens (400 mm) and I think they offer some interesting examples of bonobo behavior.  (The bonobo could forget I was there and I could stay far enough away not to remind them.) 
It seems a favorite pastime is making new alliances while upsetting the old ones and having a lot of fun in the process.



My favorite theory concerning grooming and communication is that humans began talking only when we no longer had the time to groom each other as the size of our groups expanded.
Many conversations I would trade for a good scratch on the back.

Tshilomba's game


She pretends to give you her hand to hold, or some object, but then as you reach out she lowers her hand, you lower yours then she raises hers. I watched her play this with humans and her own baby. I never saw her do this with the other bonobo. 

Playing with the babies


I loved to watch how tolerant the whole group (males and females alike) would be with the little ones.  Paternity didn’t seem to matter.


Kalina and Semendwa fought over a large rather non-descript rock for quite some time.  Was this competitive sport or more of a political challenge? Did they assign any symbolic value to the rock?  All I know is that the fight ended typical bonobo style, lots of hugs and neither left with the treasure.
In another fight, the treasure was Kalina’s baby.  This was sad to watch, but nonetheless, it ended peacefully.


The first time I met Semendwa, I had the distinct feeling she understood what I was doing when I was drawing her; when she got up to check on her little one, she returned to the exact same position she had previously been in - a perfect model. It wasn’t until a year later that I learned she had actually done some modeling before and most likely she did know just what I was doing.



The lens of my camera made a wonderful little mirror for the bonobo while I got to document their reactions.

Walking in water

From what I understand, we still do not know exactly why we humans became bi-pedal (walking upright on two legs).  One theory I really like involves water –  Elaine Morgan’s Aquatic Ape theory, which hypothesizes we evolved from primate ancestors who lived in watery habitats.  These pictures here are for Elaine.



Mimia was raised in an extremely wealthy environment by humans (a victim of the pet trade, her family was likely killed and she was sold as an infant). She learned to dine on porcelain plates and enjoyed the finer things in life - until she got too big. It was difficult for her to acclimate at Lola Ya Bonobo; she preferred to eat alone and I imagine she missed her table and chair and crystal glasses while thinking the others ate like animals.



This little guy loved to look at himself - do you think this has anything to do with how outrageously good-looking he is? The funny moment came when Makeli the alpha male, came over and chased him away from me but within a minute or two he was right back in position posing for the camera some more.

Below are little stories included with the photgraphs in the show. They are not meant for scientific review.