ISIS, climate change, human trafficking, the divisive US presidential election, globalization, poverty and hunger, water crises, overpopulation, GMOs. We are living in a world where seemingly insurmountable realities fueled by our own insatiable consumerism are at every turn.
When faced with all that is wrong with the world, is there room for hope, love, or even a little compassion? Perhaps we can look backwards in our evolutionary trajectory for something to inspire us toward a more sustainable treatment of each other and the Earth. I propose that we look to our closest living genetic relative – to the relatively unknown Bonobo.
Bonobos have 98.7 percent of the same DNA as humans, making them our closest genetic relative along with the chimpanzee. Physically, bonobos look similar to chimps, but with darker faces, more elegant limbs, a part down the middle of their hair, and adorable pink lips.
Bonobos are a symbol of hope and peace for humanity. As the only great apes that are matriarchal, their groups are ruled by female alliances. They are the only great apes that have NEVER been seen to kill each other in the wild. In fact, bonobos are the only great apes that tend to solve tensions in their groups (and between different bonobo groups) through loving gestures, empathy, and sexual contact rather than aggression.
Sadly, bonobos are endangered with only about 15,000 left in the wild. They only live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a nation a quarter the size of the US with a long history of civil war and extreme poverty, but rich in natural resources.
DRC is on the brink of exploding economically with international investments from China, the US, and Europe. While those investments will aid DRC’s infrastructure, this development will likely negatively affect the natural habitat of the bonobo ranges with increasing mining, logging, and fossil fuel extraction.
My organization, The Bonobo Project, aids the preservation of bonobos through collaborative campaigns. We’re working to raise the profile of bonobos among the American public, and get the funding necessary to support thriving populations of bonobos in their natural habitat.
The number of bonobos is dwindling mostly because of poaching for bushmeat. Recognizing the inherent human-animal conflict in the Congo, The Bonobo Project will also support various projects that work at the community level to ensure the protection of the bonobos by the Congolese.
The Bonobo Project is poised to bring organizations together across sectors to bring awareness to the bonobo’s plight and support those who are working to preserve their wild populations. Conservation organizations in the DRC like Lola ya Bonobo (the only bonobo sanctuary in the world), zoos, researchers, philanthropists, authors, artists, and other interested parties.
To that end, we are hosting the first ever Bonobo Communications Workshop in San Diego, CA on Monday, September 12, 2016. There, a diverse group of global bonobo stakeholders across sectors will come together to develop effective, creative, and collaborative initiatives aimed at building bonobo awareness throughout the US. We will also launch our first campaign that will inspire people to learn more about the amazing bonobo and support our mission.
For more information on the workshop and how you can help protect bonobos, please email me. You can also visit our online shop, the proceeds of which will be donated to bonobo conservation organizations.
Ashley Stone studied bonobos under Dr. Frans de Waal and went on to found The Bonobo Project. Ashley also serves on the boards of Heifer International, the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, and Friends of Bonobos.