As a special portion of Duke’s “Primate Palooza,” renowned bonobo conservationist Claudine André will speak at 7 p.m. today in Love Auditorium. Andre founded and now runs the only sanctuary for bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo, called Lola Ya Bonobo. Bonobos, like chimpanzees, are primates and are only found in Congo.
The Chronicle’s Tullia Rushton sat down with André to discuss her role and interest in bonobo conservation. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
The Chronicle: How did your involvement and passion for bonobos develop?
Claudine André: In 1991 we had a very bad period—it was not war, but it was a difficult political period for Congo.... The story begins like this: After one month, two months, three months [of strife that] I don’t remember very well, a man brings me a baby bonobo. [It was] almost dead with pneumonia, and the director of the [local] zoo says, “Oh Madame Claudine, don’t put your heart in this animal, it’s a bonobo and they never survive in captivity, 100 percent die. We never have [had] one.” So it was a... challenge—because they all die, [I was determined that] this one would survive.
TC: How has political violence and war affected the bonobo population?
CA: The country was hurting and the bonobo habitat was with military occupation for 60 months and it was a very bad period for bonobos because there were a lot of guns and bullets in the forest. So more and more baby orphans arrive and through [that], I realize we have to do something with the [Congolese] government.
TC: Beyond just the dangers that the war presented, why is it that bonobos are commonly hunted for and killed?
CA: Bushmeat [the meat of wild animals, killed for subsistence or commercial purposes] is the first big problem of bonobos. It’s a phenomenon that we cannot stop because nothing works against this. Millions of dollars are used by big conservationists to try to do something against [the hunting], but I didn’t see any results because it’s a mix of different factors. It’s not only poverty... but also war in Congo. You can imagine how [many] guns, how much mess is in this country, so it’s easy to go in the forest and kill everything.
TC: In addition to providing safety to orphaned bonobos, what else goes on at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary?
CA: [We have created an] education program. We have now 30,000 kids who come every year. We are also forming a reintroduction program to put [more] of these bonobos back into the wild—the original forest, almost 1,000 kilometers from Kinshasa.... We currently have 55 bonobos [at the sanctuary], because we already gave a group of nine back in the forest and we are preparing a second group of 10 to go back.
TC: Despite the widespread problems facing the bonobo population, what do you hope you accomplish personally to aid their conservation?
CA: I think the main goal I have is [to] speak about bonobos, for people to know about bonobos before they disappear.... Education, all the time. I do not have the power to [do it alone], but I can speak all the time. I can make interviews and go to the radio. I can go to the television shows. I can speak about bonobos and I can see the results.
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