Countdown to world’s first bonobo release

A young bonobo at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo

A young bonobo at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo

From Sunday 14 June WSPA will accompany a group of orphaned bonobos on a historic journey back to the wild. Travelling to a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, this is the first ever attempt to reintroduce our closest ape relation to their natural habitat.

These pioneering bonobos have been sheltered and cared for by member society Les Amis des Bonobos (ABC) at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, a project which WSPA helped set up and has actively supported ever since.

Bonobos are vulnerable to habitat destruction and the bushmeat and pet trades. Infants, sold into the pet trade or left behind when their mothers are killed for meat, desperately need safety, care and attention.

The lucky ones are found, confiscated from poachers and brought to Lola ya Bonobo by local wildlife authorities.

As well as providing sanctuary, the ABC team promote the importance of wildlife and, through their education work, attempt to save the species from further losses and abuse.

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Exciting times

WSPA's Nick de Souza, left, is veterinary adviser to the sanctuary

WSPA's Nick de Souza, left, is veterinary adviser to the sanctuary

© ABC/Lola ya Bonobo/Helene Bouchet

Dave Eastham, WSPA’s Head of Wildlife, explains the significance of this work: “This is the first time we will see bonobos return to their natural habitat after a period of captivity. It is the culmination of many years of work by the dedicated staff at Lola ya Bonobo and WSPA is proud to have provided the veterinary equipment and expertise to make a life in the wild possible for these intelligent apes.”

At the sanctuary, the apes learn the skills they will need to survive, including finding food and working as a group. Those with the best chance to adapt to a life in the wild have been chosen for the first release group.

WSPA’s Nick De Souza, lead vet on the release project, will spend the next few days assessing the apes before they start on the journey to a remote forest location where a new colony has a good chance of survival.

He will be with them all the way to monitor their health and welfare. To give the bonobos the best possible care, work on preparing facilities at the release site, on the right bank of the Lopori River, began in 2008.

Meet the apes as they say farewell to the sanctuary and their carers >>

Cycle of protection

Finding food: bonobos learn life skills at the sanctuary

Finding food: bonobos learn life skills at the sanctuary

© Lola ya Bonobo

The reintroduction project will not only provide new lives for those animals being released.

Freeing space at the sanctuary means more orphaned bonobos will be able to experience life in a safe, high welfare environment with the company they need.

In turn, the very existence of a sanctuary helps encourage wildlife officials to rigorously pursue anti-poaching work, confident that the animals they rescue will have a good home and even a chance for a life back in the wild.

Watch this space for a report on the release.

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