BUSHMEAT 11: Bonobo for dinner?

Bonobos were being killed and sold in meat markets next to forest monkeys, antelope and bush pigs. Anything that could be shot with a 12 gauge shotgun or caught in a metal snare was laid out on the market racks for sale. We followed commercial hunters from the forests along the Lomami River to the markets in Kindu.

Bushmeat for sale in a one of Kindu's markets.
Bushmeat for sale in Kindu — it’s cheaper than beef, pork or chicken.

The governor responded to our plea and pronounced no- hunting seasons. We inaugurated a media campaign to engender respect for totally protected species (including bonobos). The campaign led to a collaboration with local populations, most of which realized that their forests were being emptied of all animals not just bonobos. These peoples have now gathered and laid out the borders of a future Lomami National Park where all animals will be protected.

But this impending disaster, the hunting of bonobos, possibly to local extinction, how widespread is it?

A number of concerned bonobo researchers started writing back and forth. It is clear that this disaster is across the whole bonobo range, all of Congo’s forests west and south of the Congo/Lualaba River.

source of bonobo orphans
Red dots where bonobo infants were confiscated. In each case at least one adult was killed, probably several.

The first contribution came from the bonobo orphanage in Kinshasa, LolayaBonobo. Pierrot Mbonzo is the sanctuary’s education coordinator and he assembled a list of what was known for forty-six of the more than 60 baby bonobos that have come into the sanctuary. Another colleague, José Kalpers, put the locations of where the babies were confiscated on a map (above). Where there are bonobo orphans, there are dead bonobo adults and orphans are coming from all corners of their range. Although no TL2 orphans are at LolayaBonobo, evidence from the TL2 forests is shattering. The photos at the bottom of this post are all cases of bonobo bushmeat from TL2.

In some areas bonobos already are locally extinct. Our own surveys showed that.

20th century bonobo distribution - small dots are reports of bonobos
The small dots show where bonobos were reported during the 20th century. The red circles show areas now depleted of bonobos.

In other areas where researchers have interviewed hunters, they confirm that bonobos are regularly included in the catch.

Evidence of growing bonobo hunting
There is generally no sense of wrong-doing in the killing of bonobos.

Why do bonobos disappear under hunting pressure in some forests, but seem to survive in other hunted forest? Possible reasons:

a. Hunting is selective in some areas : bonobos aren’t hunted even though other animals are. There may be local taboos against killing bonobo. Villagers might prefer to eat other animals. Problem: Already some areas report bonobos being killed where previously a taboo protected them.

b. Hunting occurs in some areas at a very low level, so although bonobo are hunted, their removal is low. Problem: If hunting is low only because population is low (few hunters, low demand), it will increase as populations increases.  Human population is increasing everywhere in Congo.

c. Hunting is new to an area and although there are still bonobos, their populations are decreasing rapidly. This is clearly the most frightening problem and was the case in southern TL2 where bonobos were coming to market at the rate of 225 per year.

Below is a table that shows all three possibilities from an area west of TL2. John led surveys in these areas a few years ago.

hunting pressure and bonobo occurence
In Lomela hunter-population is increasing rapidly and they have no compunction about killing bonobo. The Iyaelima, half lived in bonobo forest without killing them for decades, but now foreign hunters are moving in.

WHAT IS ALARMING is that all three areas are inside a national park, Salonga National Park. National Parks are supposed to be the solution to the hunting problem. That is why we are pushing to form a national park in TL2.

WHAT IS HOPEFUL is that DRCongo has a new policy on how to create and manage protected areas. This will soon be confirmed by law. Local people and regional administrations are intimately involved in the process. TL2 is the first area to follow the new policies to form a protected area. We will continue to document it step by step. We are hopeful.

bonobo on platter
Yes, we are hopeful that this is ending in the TL2, along the Lomami.

More photo evidence of bonobo bushmeat in TL2.


  1. Posted 2010-12-27 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    This propoganda of claims the bonobos chimps orangutans gorillas are our “closest relatives” has to stop. You constantly extrapolate human like behavior from apes(they are imitators not innovators where do you think the expression To Ape someone or something came from?) who are only animals. The two to five percent in gentetics is HUGE! ASK ANY GENETIC SCIENTIST!!! I noticed not one accredited genetic scientist has backed any of your claims at all. You take these infants you claim are “traumatized” (as if these animals have the capacity to be traumatized just like humans(you imply these animals have the same emotional make up humans do…bullshit!!!Heres the kicker..you take these noisy animal infants and raise them just like human babies diapering them feeding them humaninfant formula you medicate them, all you do is first corrupt them raising them like human infants complete with names. There are humans in this world who could use these same resources to stay alive! Shut all of these centers down ship all the apes to zoos world wide those that are adopted by the apes groups will be raised naturally by apes not humans trying to turn pes into humans. Take all the resources you pour into animals and give them to people instead. I would rather see a species of ape die out than to see resources used to support animals instead of human beings. The infant in the video is probably dead, but to me humans are far more important than apes. So stop your propoganda stop using the cuteness factor these are not human babies they are animals!

  2. rosario
    Posted 2011-03-21 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    i’m also against this propaganda, but for another reason! relating chimps to humans jane goodall is telling around in africa that people should eat goats instead of chimps! this goes directly against the idea of animal protection! it’s pathetic and speciesistic because all animals deserve the same respect! i don’t find chimps cute but ugly but i never spoke out for a special species – this i learned from goodall and i don’t like the idea that for every chimp taken out of a lab there are entering a cat, a dog, a pig or a goat! great apes are not human beings but animals like all the others! also my cat is touching my hand and face with his paw and my dog plays football! my fight is now to stop the idea of preferring and favouring apes before other species as there are several individuals attempting to! wrapping chimps into pampers and treating them like humans is ridiculous! so the poor black populations in africa are saying that this is a typical white thing! on the other hand the human being is not an animal – for this the human being is morally and ethically fully responsible for all the crimes and mischiefs committed against THE WHOLE animal kingdom and this planet!

  3. Enjay
    Posted 2011-04-09 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    The point of persuading people to eat goats instead of bushmeat is not ‘speciesistic’ (which isn’t a word) it is common sense as the population of goats is higher and more sustainable that of animals such as Bonobos or Chimps. As for treating animals like humans; dogs and cats are allowed to live indoors, have their own beds, toys ect. and these animals are less intelligent and ‘human-like’ than great apes. So we should be respecting the complex society and way of life Bonobos have established by not slaughtering them, at least cows and other animals bred for meat are killed humanely.

  4. Gabe Hanken
    Posted 2012-01-20 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Wow I am appalled at the responses in the above comments. First I would like to preface all of the following with the fact that I know Africa is a long ways from us in the west and it has many many deep rooted issues, that will not be solved overnight.
    To the first asinine poster , great apes are not humans this is true. However THEY ARE our closest relatives I ask you to refute this with any kind of real rational logical answer. The fact is the ARE out closest relatives, and I for one am a lot more proud to have a bonobo as my closest relative then the the so called ” inbred humans from Kentucky on the left hand side of your family tree. The 2-6% difference in genetics is a large difference I agree. Somehow equating “worth” to this 2% difference is stupid. There are many many many human beings I am embarrassed and sad to have as part of my species, rapists, murderers, war mongering W.A.S.Py politicians that are half sociopath half psychopath to me have little to no worth, but according to your equating this 2% genetic difference makes these “Humans” worthy of being so called the “top species”. From working with great apes daily I have learned first hand these animals Chimpanzees- Orangutans- Bonobos are capable of FAR FAR FAR more advanced social functioning and concepts then most humans I know. When it comes to memory , photographic, numeric , spoken and all Chimpanzees kill almost every human on this planet. There are some 35 different areas found by scientists- NON-BIASED work shows that each of these great apes have certain traits and skills that are far more advanced then “humans” . ALL YOU 2 Posters would need to do to see this is spend a week observing any of these great apes and you will find out really damn quick they are not merely “COPIERS” or sorry not innovators but imitators . That line almost pissed me off as much as the fact you claim Chimps cannot be traumatized like humans. It makes my blood boil even typing that line. I HAVE PERSONALLY SEEN BABY ORANGUTANS WHOSE MOTHERS WERE SLAUGHTERED AND EATEN- STARVE THEMSELVES BY SHEER WILL FROM THE DEPRESSION OF LOSING ITS MOTHER. I have seen this in Chimps and Orangutans, and let me tell you there is nothing more sad then a infant losing its will to live and actually becoming so depressed it dies. FOR THAT MATTER I have see documented cases of infant Chimpanzees being seperated from there mother commiting SUICIDE , yes you heard me . It has been documented several times, it has happened in Oklahoma on one of the chimp islands , since the opening and thanks god closing of this facillity they had 2 suicides and 2 murders . An adult chimp throwing another into the middle of a river, and chimps know very well they are too dense to swim. As the chimp thrown in the water is trying to get back out the one who threw them in is holding it head under water. This is not going to score brownie points with my cause, but you cannot tell me they do not experience human like emotions. I’ve seen jealousy, anger, happiness, thankfulness, disgust, joy, ive seen chimpanzees so horribly treated it would make even you sad, forgive people. How about a chimp with half it brain removed, still able to love the humans that were responsible. Or in the seventies I know one chimp in particular who repeatedly had a solid iron ball smashed against his mouth and teeth repeatedly until all of the teeth fell out and jaw was broken- and you know WHY
    ? Because a dentistry school needed a human like analogue to repair this kind of damage, they needed the practice for a case study. Now you tell me it is not a miracle that this same chimp has forgiven most all the people that had done this to them. Just there capacity for forgiveness is enough for me.
    Taking all the money and food from these sanctuaries and putting it towards humans is not going to fix the starving human problem.
    And furthermore just because there are starving humans THIS DOES NOT NEGATE THE FACT THAT ALL GREAT APES DESERVE TO LIVE the best life possible for them , not abused, not starving and certainly not on a dinner plate.
    I do agree with you that humans starving is a huge problem, and it is very sadbut this is a human controlled world, setup by humans made for humans. I feel less sorry for a human not making it in this world , then a great ape FORCED to live in our world. A great ape cannot get a job, get into a car and drive to a “better” place to make money. They cannot stay fed (unless in there native forests) You bring a chimp into are society they are helpless Totally. Humans are not at all a human can drive somewhere else to get a job. They can steal lie and cheat there way into a meal/ A chimp cannot. A child cannot. But all humans over 15 can, and there are extreme situations, but humans are not helpless in this society like chimps are or would be.
    Dont get me started on the second poster who thinks it is OK to eat great apes- I won’t even venture a response.

  5. Terese Hart
    Posted 2012-01-21 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I am glad and relieved that the last two comments give an alternative, and I feel much more Human (!), perspective than the first two comments.

  6. rosario
    Posted 2012-03-10 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    I’m an animal rights fighter for more than 40 years now and I have dogs, cats, goats and horses and I don’t tolerate that great apes should be considered more sensitive or worthy of protection that any other animal and thanks to the great ape protection act the small primates and the dogs and cats shall continue to suffer in the labs! During catastrophes it is the dog who saves human lives and the dog who guides the blinds and not the chimp!!!

  7. rosario
    Posted 2012-03-12 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    post scriptum to my first two texts: of course i do not at all approve atrocities as shown on the upper photos – that is clear! No animal has to be hurt – every living being has a right to be respected and to live and die in dignity!

  8. Jenny BSc
    Posted 2013-02-24 at 4:24 am | Permalink

    I’m doing post-grad studies in animal behaviour and like it or not there are some species that, wild or captive, display considerably more complex behaviours than others. They display theory of mind, culture, social cohension, political behaviour, tool modification, self awareness, basic language, planning ahead and even name-giving. This is not ‘humanising them’: these are a selection of high functioning behaviours seen in a number of species. These species include great apes, elephants, corvids (crows), dolphins, parrots and humans. Pigs are also high up there. These species are exceptional in their capacities and therefore there is good reason to protect them. All animals require protection from suffering, and I strongly oppose the meat industry, but I believe that suffering in these highly functioning species would be more exceptional in adverse situations where they can quickly assess the danger and threat and predict the level of injury to themselves and their beloved companions. In addition, many of these species are endangered. I suggest cynics here actually sit down and read about the capacities in these species before making unhelpful and inaccurate comments on animal behaviour. You cannot comment on ape behaviour if you have not looked properly into what it is.

  9. Siraganda
    Posted 2013-06-10 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I’m a friend to Rosario and I just would ad the following: Enjay and Gabe Hanken are far away from animal rights – they are conservationists – this is not the same thing! A conservationist is interested in saving special species while we – the animal rights fighters are saving every animal’s life, without regard to his or her’s intelligence or if he or she is at the brink of extinction – this is the difference! If chimps are soooooooooo much smarter than humans – why not put them as bus drivers, for instance – and you shall see where he will drive you – right into the wall!!!! Plat nose too – so then you are really brothers!!! Felicitations! I hate speciesism – this is a word, indeed and speciesism is a shot in the back of the international animal rights movements which throws us hundred years back! How can you dare to suggest that eating goats or cows is the right alternative! You have nothing to do with animal rights – nothing, zero!

  10. Posted 2016-10-03 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    The idiocy of some of the above comments is beyond response.

  11. L1758
    Posted 2022-01-03 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    The human species for the most part is totally redundant. The degeneracy of adherents to anthropocentrism, and the lack of iq in both the animal rights activists and christians is truly apparent. Human beings are not at the center of everything, for if anything, it is corruption that modern humankind is centered in. It is clear if one learns and strives in the scientific disciplines (mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, anthropology, cosmology, natural history in general), then you will realize the world’s astounding beauty. The flora and fauna are the reason why Homo sapiens exists, to deny that, is to argue against PHD’s and Researchers. The advocacy of insane conspiracy theories and ill intended humanism (Christianity in particular), quantifies nothing other than human stupidity.

    The people who believe the planet to be flat, the people who deny biological evolution, who only know colloquial terms like a backwards villager, who believes in a magical jesus and angels, is an infantile fool who does not deserve their own encephalization quotient. The natural world is beyond anything of imagination, for it is the reason for life, and it is literally existence. The one world, the blue marble, shall not be lost. The natural world will have it’s revenge, and the emotion of the unique beings of Earth’s biota who have suffered from modern humankind and their corruptions will finally return to serenity. As for the domestic stock lovers, the suffering of livestock is a result of their massive inbreeding due to human artificial selection. They don’t need to be here and they will never survive in the natural world. The natural world is more important than plastic, perversion, modern industrial and neolithic human society, and domestic livestock and pets. SARS-CoV-2 is only the beginning, if you refuse to secure the natural world, then you will never feel security. Filoviridae is always a stone throw away….

  12. I_Eat_Feral_Cats
    Posted 2022-01-03 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    “Animal rights activists” are fools who love inbred domestic stock more than the natural world. Perversion is the reason. Conservationists are based in reality, it’s as simple as that.

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