On Thursday 18th February 2016 we spent the day visiting a natural site called “Lola ya Bonobo” (in English: bonobos’ paradise) near Kimwenza. The party included children cared for in the Ndako Ya Biso center, girls and boys (6 girls and 20 boys). We left the center at 9am together with 5 educators, plus Mrs. Cambier and Mr. Bruno, both from the “Africa Kids” charity, one of our partners in the work of caring for children in difficult circumstances, who made possible this day of discovery of the bonobos’ life. Lola ya Bonobo turns out to be a small protected forest on the outskirts of Kinshasa, where a natural reserve has been set up in order to protect orphan bonobos. Bonobos are a kind of primate that is only found in the DRC. They are a protected species, but unfortunately they are still occasionally hunted in the forest. We arrived on site at 11am and had a time of briefing, a necessity before the visit. Several guides from the sites were present to help visitors better understand the life of primates in general and bonobos in particular. Driven by curiosity the children got more and more impatient to discover the site. Some wanted to go ahead of the guide, asking many questions about bonobos while waiting to see them.
After nearly three hours’ walk through various parts of the site, everyone marvelled to see how the word Lola (paradise) is truly apt. Bonobos are living there just as they would in their natural environment. Some were bounding about; others jumped from tree to tree or were running. The children particularly appreciated the fact that each one had a name. For instance, Kasongo, the most boisterous and the keenest to stand out from the others. That name struck the children because one of them bears it. Bonobos are similar to us, they eat fruit, bananas, with their hands like we do. We were fortunate to see for ourselves what the guide had taught us. He had told us that, in bonobo society, the mother is the leader, and indeed we witnessed a domestic dispute in which the mother attacked the father and chased him away from the children …
At the end of our visit we went to see the small bonobo orphans rescued from the hands of individuals or poachers that had killed their parents. They had been entrusted into the human care of women. To see those women looking after the bonobo babies greatly impressed the children. “We all need to be loved and protected…” one of them said. It was a good thing we saw this at the end of the visit. Thus everyone went away with the realisation that mankind wrecks the bonobos’ world, destroys lives… and the more mankind refuses to live in harmony with nature, the more it destroys it. It’s in the very place where this can happen that Lola ya Bonobo was set up, in order to help change mankind’s attitude, by creating a place where bonobos can live without fear of poachers or anyone who consumes bonobo meat and/or makes it into a commerce. And so we reached the end of our visit. The children started to go back. While waiting for their bus, the children enjoyed a moment to share a cake with their accompaniers. We left the site at 1pm and by 2pm we were back at the center.
We felt that it was important to help the children relive their experience of the day. For some, it had a real impact on their daily life because they saw a place where respect for life was central, and where they were taught about protecting nature. “…I even learned that, besides the okapi, we have a duty to protect bonobos because they are getting rare and that they can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Thanks to that visit and the teaching they received, the children see themselves already as protectors of nature. Jokingly one of them exclaimed: “Better eat a cat than a bonobo, seeing as it is rare and more and more difficult to find!” In this way others would like to visit the zoo and learn about other animals.
An experience rich in discoveries: three hours’ learning about a life different from our human life, yet in many ways quite similar also. It gave us a useful lesson on respecting nature and looking after it responsibly.