The world of wild animals by Andrey Gudkov

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The lost species

This resembling a human being monkey is almost not known to public at large though it is them who are the closest human’s relatives nowadays. Their inhabitation on the nature is limited by the central part of Congo Democratic Republic. However there remain almost none of them in the wild nature. Claudine Andre, the founder and director of the national park “Lola ya Bonobo” in Congo Democratic Republic (Zaire), says her park is, perhaps, the only place on the Earth where one can watch a Bonobo (Pan paniscus) – rare and vanishing species of resembling a human being monkey in surroundings highest possibly close to a natural one.

“Thank you, Andrey, to be the first Russian photographer coming in “Lola ya Bonobo”! We hope that this visit will give a better knowledge of this 4-th great Ape, that some people call “the forgotten Ape”, but it can be the first great Ape, who will disappeared from the Planet”!

Claudine Andre
Democratic Republic of Congo
May of 2007

Road to paradise

I have been preparing to this trip to Zaire for almost year and a half. Once during my last stay at the national park Conkuati (Republic of the Congo) I learned from its director Aliette Jamar about existence of a special reserve “Lola ya Bonobo” — “Paradise for Bonobo”. Some scientists say about these monkeys that they are not animals but different people. Complete disappearance treats today the smart and well-wishing Bonobo. That is why I liked so much to have a look at how the closest human’s relatives lucky to avoid poachers live in their “boarding house”. Their mimics are very much like humans: same gestures, grimaces, and behavior are very similar to a human.

First advisor of the Russian Embassy in Republic of the Congo helped to organize correspondence with the park’s director Claudine Andre. However due to communication irregularity (political situation has been unstable in this country for many years) our negotiations were lingering. Letters didn’t reach her. Responses were being lost. Then, finally, the lady of “the monkey’s paradise” gave her go-ahead.

There was enough to think about during nine hours flight: I had a few kilograms of expensive equipment with me and a way to “Lola ya Bonobo” runs through one of the most dangerous for a European places — Kinshasa, not safe from criminal point of view. Only a promise of pick up at the airport given by the Embassy staff reassured.

A plane landed in twilight. When all customs formalities were settled down night had completely entered upon her fortune. It was stuffy and dark. Cars coming in the opposite direction illuminated unlit streets of Kinshasa for only a short time.

I relaxed a bit in the car: all doors were locked, my window opened slightly for a dozen of centimeters, and there was a convoy next to a driver. I settled back into a seat and started to send sms to the motherland. In a moment I realized that a message would never reach an addressee: with lightning speed a hand appeared in a window aperture from blackness of night, gripped my mobile phone and disappeared. Meanwhile our car continued to drive with rather high speed. All necessary numbers and addressed left in the phonebook. Fortunately, I had another phone. But my good mood was ruined. Later I was told theft of mobiles from cars on the run was favourite amusement of wayside riffraff. And the road from the airport to the town has rather bad reputation.

“Why, do not worry so much about”, the convoy tried to console me. “You stay overnight in a hotel in Kinshasa, in the morning will get round to the park — it is about forty kilometers from the capital. Local driver would go to the national park on night roads not at any price”.

Edem for bonobo

Early in the morning I finally reached the cherished “paradise”. Warned in advance security at the gate let me pass without additional questions. After noisy and dusty Kinshasa “Lola ya Bonobo” looked really like Edem: birds were twittering, fresh wind blew. One could hardly believe that just two weeks before my arrival there was gun shooting not far from here: government troops suppressed rebels. It seemed park was covered by invisible protective cap, detaching it from a mess of the outside world: even during wartime, when chaos and anarchy were reigning in the country, the park remained in safe and sound. In truth “Lola ya Bonobo” is isolated only by a natural obstacle — small, but wide rivulet with deep backwaters.

Alongside well-groomed paved roads I walk to a bungalow with all the facilities: hot water, electricity, air conditioner, washing machine, refrigerator and even wireless Internet.

On established during many years tradition, the founder has come to her park at ten o’clock. As it turned out, rumors about cruelty of Madame Andre, which were reaching me during preparation of the expedition, were largely exaggerated. Well-wishing and smiling Claudine had firstly promised to ensure perfect shooting conditions and then offered to show her holding by herself.

Claudine Andre, the charming woman, met me with a cordial smile. “Are you the photographer from Russia?”, she asked. I already thought you would not appear. It was shooting in Kinshasa just a week ago. It was dangerous. Though it is always calm here. Echoes of war conflicts rarely roll here. You are the second photographer, after Franz Lanting, who has come to our park to shoot Bonobo professionally. And you are the first one from Russia. Today you may walk around the park. I will show you everything. And tomorrow you will start working.On a spacious hilly territory covered by dense jungle wall, are situated several technical spaces, medical center with surgical and set of all necessary medicines, separate bungalows for guests and somewhat a little farther there are on houses for staff living in the park. “Here is our “kindergarten” — nursery for Bonobo kids of different ages. Adult monkeys live in the natural environment — tropical forest, separated by a wire with odd current”. According to Claudine Andre, all park’s inhabitants happened to come to “Lola ya Bonobo” from poacher’s captivity, were bought out at the border from illegal trades people, who intended to convey them in private collections. An attendant of the Kinshasa zoo which was completely destroyed during a war, brought her that very first Bonobo. That is how former airline employee became the founder and director of the national park. Today there are 55 individuals in her housing. We stop at an open-air-cage. Merry kids’ muzzles immediately turn to us. “It seems to you, probably, that all monkeys are very much alike? This is not so. My employees, for instance, know all their charges not by names only, but, as the saying goes, by sight”.Volunteers and veterinarians from France, Belgium, UK and USA come here to take care of monkeys. In “Lola ya Bonobo” I met several voluntary assistants — elderly Belgians and two doctors from France, who had come specially to perform surgery on two ill animals. “In the park everything is made thanks to donated funds from international conservancy organizations and money we get from educational excursions. Three times a week people come here willing to see live Bonobo. Excursions bring indescribable delight and especially to children” told Claudine at the end of our walk, and parted with me, having turned me over to a chief park’s supervisor, Krispin Mukhamba, who was due to become my guide for five shooting days.

Monkey’s sex-symbol

According to the established rules, in the mornings employees of local population come to babies to wash them, look over and take the charges to walk. Two or three babies are “fixed” to each employee.

Krispin brought me to “the kindergarten” especially before the morning exercise. Cages were open at once, and bright black rascals rushed towards their “foster mummies”, clang on them, and hang by them. Whose, who were lucky enough to hike themselves on people’s hands, started to snuggle up to them. I also got my portion of positive emotions. Two Bonobos fearlessly allowed me to strike them, and then scrambled up on me. We started to communicate: make funny faces to each other, protrude tongues and smile.

It was only here when I managed to examine them in all details. Bonobo are so mobile and ever-active that it is extremely difficult to make photo of them even at close quarters: sparkling beads on a black muzzle, red lips, small ears and black haircut with parting in the middle.

Meanwhile, the “kindergarten” began to walk in single file towards big forest clearing. My new acquaintances made a rush to come up with fellows. And, having flung themselves into the mincing line, turned around several times to check if I was following. I’m explained:

"Isn’t their ability to walk on two limbs amazing? They are exactly like people. But what does similarity in appearance matter? Scientists have determined that genotypes of Homo sapiens and Pan paniscus (the Latin for Bonobo) coincides by 98%! They also communicate not worse than we do. There are as many signals in their language as there are sounds in human’s speech, and combinations of these signals resemble a real, though primitive, language. It is no mere chance that people say these are us, only 3,5 million years ago.

Looking at babies frisking all day long on sunny clearing and greedily tucking away fruits, I didn’t want to think that it is a “civilized human being” who kills them ruthlessly. There have remained only few places where they feel safe. And yet, they are not at all aggressive in comparison to other anthropoid apes, and, unlike previous objects of my shooting they are absolutely predictable. One can make agreement with them: they comprehend languages of gestures. Though, a couple of times I got handful of soil into my face when I aimed my camera to a male in a bad mood.

As I learned, adult monkeys live in several groups in different parts of the park. They spend nights on trees in nest-stove benches. In one of shooting days I even managed to catch a moment when Bonobo male was making such a “bed” for himself. It was a pity that equipment didn’t allow to imprint the process: he claimed too high.

Cadres shot from a boat came out to be the brightest. Bonobo take water procedures with extreme pleasure. They wallow noisy near the coast but don’t go deeper — they can’t swim. For a minute it seemed Bonobo were posing to me…

Krispin explained that the best time for shooting is early morning or evening, when animals go for a bath. Distance to the coast is 10–15 meters. One can’t come closer as monkeys behave nervously. They even can throw mud clot at you. And they throw neatly.

Love to games is all m anthropoid apes’ nature, but Bonobo, probably, is especially inventive in this. Their favourite amusement is to fly up to you, pinch and run aside, as saying — try to catch me!

Amorousness of paradise’s inhabitants was for me the only thing hard to get accustomed to. Adult individuals solve any conflicts amicable. There are both heterosexual and homosexual relations between Bonobos. They are real sex symbol amongst resembling human being monkeys.

Five days of shooting flew insensibly. At the departure day Claudine came early expressly to say goodbye. She said she had driven yesterday to post office to check post for… 2005 year! That’s efficiency all over! I understood why I couldn’t arrange contact with Madame Andre for so long.

At the breakfast we were talking about Bonobo, her work in the park, photographing, Russia. Later we were watching how maintaining established daily routine the staff was conducting young Bonobos in single file from open-air cages to the forest along the small path. Kids were frisking and looked perfectly carefree. We were looking at the procession silently for some time. Suddenly Claudine said somehow faintly and sadly: “We do everything in our power to make Bonobo survive. However, I’m afraid just Bonobo will be the first in a list of four resembling a human being monkeys that will disappear from the planet earliest”.

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