[monkeywire] 'Hippie chimps' fast disappearing as dinner
josh.greenman at gmail.com
Mon Mar 6 08:38:55 EST 2006
'Hippie chimps' fast disappearing as dinner
MBIHE-MOKELE, Congo (AP) -- Scientists are struggling to save the
fast-disappearing bonobo, the gentle "hippie chimp" known for
resolving squabbles through sex rather than violence.
Unfortunately, bonobos are prized by Congolese for their tasty meat,
and many villagers who are illegally hunting the wiry, wizen-faced
apes don't realize how close their prey is to extinction.
"Bonobos are an icon for peace and love, the world's 'hippie chimps,"'
said Sally Coxe of the Washington-based Bonobo Conservation
Initiative. "To let them die off would be a catastrophe."
The animals are known for greeting rival groups with genital
handshakes and sensual body rubs. Bonobo spats are swiftly settled --
often with a French kiss and a quick round of sex.
Despite all the sex, however, female bonobos give birth to a single
infant only once every five years, making the species especially
The bonobo, or pan paniscus, is native only to the vast rain forest in
this huge central African nation, living high off the ground in
As few as 5,000 may now remain in Congo, down from an estimated
100,000 in 1984, said Ino Guabini, a primatologist with the World
"There is no question that bonobos are seriously threatened," Guabini
said, speaking over a shrill forest symphony of birds, animals and
insects. "We need urgent measures or there is no way we can protect
But for poor villagers, bonobos can be lucrative business, with much
of the meat heading for expensive, clandestine meals at restaurants in
One bonobo can earn $200 for Richard Ipaka, a 50-year-old part-time
poacher who lives in the provincial capital, Mbandaka.
"That's enough money for two months," he said.
Like many Congolese, he said he did not know bonobos are found in the
wild only in his country. And like many others, he was skeptical that
the ape is endangered.
"Our ancestors have been eating bonobos for centuries. How could they
disappear?" Ipaka said.
But the peace-loving bonobos are increasingly difficult to sight, and
not just because they're good at hiding, suspended from the high
branches of trees or swiftly traversing the lattice of thick, muddy
roots strewn over the forest floor.
The best place to glimpse them these days may be the Bonobo Paradise
sanctuary in Congo's capital, Kinshasa, which is home to a few dozen
rescued from poachers by police.
Poachers have devised an array of methods to bag bonobos.
Hunters in Congo's Equator province say the apes are most easily
captured when asleep drunk, so poachers intoxicate them with beer and
palm wine. The dazed bonobos are stuffed in bags and carted off to
Other poachers use guns, and some leave poisoned meat in the forest,
silently killing packs of up to 20 bonobos at a time.
Ipaka, who uses a battle-worn Kalashnikov assault rifle to shoot
bonobos sleeping in their nests, said he hunts most often with bands
of unemployed militiamen left over from a string of rebellions, coups
and conflict that ravaged Congo beginning in the mid-1990s.
The bonobo is the subject of age-old songs and legends, and
conservationists hope to turn some of those traditions to their
In the village of Botwalu, for instance, locals believe the bonobo was
once a man who lived with their tribe but now hides in the forest
because an angry tree stripped him of its clothes.
"The bonobo is a man, only it is ashamed to be naked. It is wrong to
hunt or eat bonobos," said Mokelo Moibula, chief of a village
committee that works to protect bonobos.
The Bonobo Conservation Initiative has begun working with villages
that hold such hunting taboos to create a series of reserves for the
"So far we're working on an area larger than the size of Wales, and
it's getting bigger," Coxe said.
That may not be enough. Even provincial police who are supposed to
protect the bonobo are mostly ignorant about dangers to its survival,
and they are often sympathetic to those who eat it.
Some officers consume bonoobo meat, too, said Clerivent Kanyamba,
deputy chief of the Equator province police.
"What can we do if bonobo meat is tasty?" Kanyamba said.
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