Field Updates

These are exciting times in the Yetee forest of Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve! The theme of the past few months has been continuity amidst transition. With a new team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, new baby bonobos (hooray!), and new trackers in the field, the work happening in the forest continues to provide valuable insights into the world of the bonobos.

One of the new members of the Kokolopori bonobo family; Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project
One of the new members of the Kokolopori bonobo family
Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project

During the end of January and the beginning of February, researchers Maelle Lemaire and Axel Ruiz welcomed Rodolphe Violleau and Claudia Wilke to the research camp. Rodolphe has worked in a number of African sites, including Lui Kotale in the DRC. Claudia is an experienced researcher of chimpanzees. After training under Maelle and Axel, Claudia is now in charge of long-term data collection and Rodolphe is the new camp manager. They are working alongside Stefano Lucchesi, who has been onsite for several months, and they will be joined by Leveda Chang, who will return to the field this summer. Though Maelle and Axel are greatly missed, the personnel transition has been seamless for everyone, human and bonobo alike. Claudia and Rodolphe have a great rapport with the trackers, and the bonobos have accepted the presence of new researchers with no hesitation.

Not to be outdone by the humans, the bonobos have some new personnel of their own! The Nkokoalongo group has two new baby boys: Tupac, son of Tyler, and Schubert, son of Simone. The bonobos are so comfortable with the researchers that Tyler came down to the ground when Tupac was only two days old and proceeded to groom him right near the humans. This is an incredible sign of trust and bodes very well for the future of research in this forest. And remember the female born to the Ekalakala group in September? She has been named Vanille. We are looking forward to watching these bonobos grow up, and we will keep the baby pictures coming!

None of the research would be possible without the tireless efforts of our trackers; Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project
None of the research would be possible without
the tireless efforts of our trackers
Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project

The scientists have continued making great strides in learning about the bonobos. They now know the composition of each group and are gaining a clearer understanding of their feeding and ranging patterns. Stefano will continue to study how food brings bonobo groups together and what happens when they meet. Dr. Martin Surbeck, lead researcher, will head back to Kokolopori in July to establish the next steps in evidence-based monitoring. One project involves the placement of camera traps in strategic locations throughout the forest. The “traps” have motion detectors that trigger the camera to take photos or videos. The information gathered gives scientists insight into animal behaviors that might not otherwise be observed. Camera traps can also serve as a deterrent to poaching and other negative human impacts.

None of the research would be possible without the tireless efforts of the trackers. They are in the forest every day, following bonobos from nest to nest and collecting valuable data. We’re excited to have two new members of the tracker team. Okito has joined us from Yomboli, a nearby village within the ranging territory of the Ekalakala and Nkokoalongo bonobos. The research team also just finished training two trackers, Lobilo and Maradona, who work with Vie Sauvage and BCI; they are now ready to help habituate the Bekako bonobo group and take GPS coordinates to gain a better understanding of the group’s movements within the forest. We are all excited to get more information about this third bonobo group and its relationship to the other Kokolopori bonobos.

Named after famous musicians, Bowie, Jackson, and Armstrong cuddle up for some afternoon grooming; Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project
Named after famous musicians, Bowie, Jackson, and
Armstrong cuddle up for some afternoon grooming
Photo Credit: Kokolopori Bonobo Project

Please stay tuned for more updates from the field. We are sure that the researchers and trackers will continue their excellent efforts over the next few months, and that we will have even more fascinating bonobo news to share with you. Want to help the field teams keep up the good work? Please show your support and donate today. Better research means a brighter future for the bonobos and their neighbors.