Wednesday, September 8, 2010

34 - Sodom and Gomorrah! Gomorrah!

Bonobo reserve
 At last the famous Bonobos who, when under stress and tension, make love with each other instead of war, regardless of sex or age, an animal kingdom version of the Bible's ancient twin doomed cities – or a rampant example of modern-day equal opportunity. Standing more upright than a chimpanzee but less so than a human, they're only found in the deep equatorial forests on the left bank of the Congo River and are now an endangered species thanks to poachers and deforestation. Smaller than a chimpanzee – the male reaches 1.2 metres and 50 kilos, the female about 1 metre and 35 kilos - they live to about 50 or 60 and are estimated to number only some 10,000 as opposed to 100,000 in 1980.

About two hours outside Kinshasa orphans rescued from poachers are rehabilitated and eventually released into their natural habitat 1,000 kilometres or more to the north. In a huge forest enclosure protected by an electric-topped fence, several dozen bonobos roam and play about in family groups, grooming each other, making faces, and otherwise having a great time.

On the other side of the fence
Of course each time one of them produces an extremely elongated grimace with lips protruding forward like a long tube when asked if he/she can talk, muggins is too slow in getting his camera ready. Nor is muggins apparently producing enough tension or pressure, because they're not doing any of 'that.' But what muggins does manage to do is electrocute himself. In my enthusiasm to snap every gesture, I advance hands and camera too far in, brush against – yes, you’ve guessed it - the electric wires and am propelled backwards with a very nasty jolt amid flashes and an electricity-charged camera (fortunately photos unharmed).

Order restored, one of the older bonobos decides to put on a spontaneous show for yours truly. He balances a long stick on his back and runs proudly on all fours without it ever coming close to falling off. Now he walks, carrying it wedged between his shoulder and the side of his jaw. A family of seven with a baby groom each other in different positions, presenting their backs once front and arms have been cleared of ticks. The males have huge balls but tiny dicks.

Family rest time
There are 58 bonobos in the reserve including babies in the nursery; another nine have already been released into the wild. To visit them in their natural habitat is difficult to say the least – a week or more travel up river, a long trek into the jungle, and even then there’s no assured sighting because the forest is so dense.

Bonobo infant
A film at the reserve's headquarters shows how they have been taught to recognise 1,000 words – both nouns like house or orange, and also adjectives – either presenting pictured cards or pressing the correct computer keys when asked. They break wood by holding it in both hands and using their foot, take a lighter out of someone's pocket, flicking to make a fire and throw a pail of water to put it out.

Time to clamber over foster mummy
Start of the balancing act 
Show underway
Wow this is easy
Next move
Show over
More time out

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