Changing Planet

Why are We Eating Bonobos? Can We Save Africa’s Vast Wildernesses from Destruction?

Bonobo orphans are pouring into primate sanctuaries across central Africa and thousands of adults are being killed, smoked and bundled with monkeys, pangolins, small antelope and bush pigs for sale in distant bushmeat markets. We are about to reach a tipping point in Africa beyond which it is going to be very hard to save the last populations of Africa’s most enigmatic species like mountain gorilla, bonobo, lion, wild dog, giraffe, rhino, elephant, and cheetah. Years of civil war, unrest and corruption have broken this link for many people that now live in the cities and have evolved a new belief system, together with their new consumptive needs. Bonobo populations have declined significantly due to the bushmeat trade in recent years. People are now eating them and we need to look at what this represents in regard to our future in Africa. Ongoing anti-poaching efforts in source countries have yielded many successes and many, many people are trying to keep bonobos and all wildlife safe within protected areas. Forests and river basins are too vast, while  resources and staff are too few for enforcement of new laws to be effective in slowing the erosion of Africa’s natural heritage. We are just years away from that terrible morning when we all open our eyes and realize that we did not do enough when we could have and that now there was nothing left to save or do. As of today, we still have something to save and we had better get out there and do that…

Terese Hart /
Where there are bonobo orphans, there are dead bonobo adults. Orphans are coming from all corners of their distributional range. Photographed here is a baby bonobo at Lola Ya Bonobo - a Kinshasa bonobo orphanage. We simply cannot apply any further pressure on wild bonobo populations... (Terese Hart /


Research published this year by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has demonstrated that chimpanzees and bonobos are close enough to humans to share 99.6% of their DNA. Due to this close kinship there are deep taboos against hunting and eating bonobos are in fact relatively common throughout their distributional range. It would take but a few minutes in the presence of a wild bonobo to see that they are more like us than we would like to accept. Spend a long period of time with them and you will start to see that they are, in fact, better than us. Happier, honest, caring and trustworthy. Often researchers have encountered areas devoid of monkeys and other wildlife, but still with bonobos. Many local cultures feel a kinship for bonobos linking them to their forefathers. This ancestral and spiritual link has protected bonobos even through the most trying times over the later part of the last century when mad armies shot their way through the jungle and left many of their weapons behind to continue the destruction they had started.


Terese Hart /
Rare photograph of a bonobo moving through the high canopy. Are we going to exterminate this amazing great ape before we even know anything about the species? (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
We have so much to learn from these peaceful forest specialists that have followed he ebb and flow of these tropical forests for millions of years. (Terese Hart /


Africa’s “Great Work” is the persistence of vast wilderness areas all the way through until colonial times  The people’s of Africa clearly lived in balance with the ancient continent we all originated from. Africa is the cradle of mankind and we must look long and hard at the lives and livelihoods of the planet’s oldest resident populations. Today, after 150 years of ruthless exploitation of natural resources, ignorance for basic human rights, endless civil war and faction fighting, and ongoing lies and deceit from the rest of the world we are now a continent of people ripping apart, catching, killing, cutting, burning, raping and excavating our own natural heritage to feed aspirations that are perpetuated by the countries that use and abuse Africa’s resources. The people that Africa want to be like are the very people that are misleading and disempowering the continent. As we stand at the dawn of massive development on the African continent we need to be cognizant of where we have come from and what we want to take with us. NGOs from the United States and around the world have an idea about what to do. Reports have been written about the multitude of problems and threats facing Africa’s last-remaining wild places. If we do not protect and celebrate our remaining wild places now, we will lose the origin of our species, the very wilderness that protected us through ice ages and brought forth modern man 100,000 years ago. We need to do this by establishing new protected areas, expanding old ones, uplifting rural communities, and working with local government to improve legislation. African governments and the rest of the world need to invest in the future of wilderness on earth. As per Henry David Thoreau’s dictum: “In wildness is the salvation of the world.” The great beating heart of Africa will go silent within the next 15-30 years if we do not do everything in our power to protect what we have left now. The great elephant migrations will come to an end, the roar of “king of the jungle” will be gone, the chirping of excited painted hunting dog no more, and the great apes are all in zoos overseas. The African wilderness and other wilderness areas around the world are birthplace of our religion, the first and only places where we can clearly see, feel and understand our connection to this blue planet…


Terese Hart /
Every year hundreds of baby bonobo are handed over to sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation facilities. Their loving mother were all shot or clubbed to death for the bushmeat trade. These little bonobo orphans can only close their eyes and remember wonderful moments like this one with their mother. Local communities are turning their backs on long held beliefs and killing and eating bonobos. (Terese Hart /


Dr Terese Hart explains: “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.”


Terese Hart /
A dehydrated and stressed out baby bonobo that was abandoned in the sun outside the kitchen where his/her mother is being grilled and eaten. How can we justify doing this to a great ape that is 99.6% us? This mother and child had a life living free in the wild until she was shot by poachers. What are you feeling looking at this abandoned and hopeless baby? (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
The mother that was killed with her baby grasping to her belly. Her hands and feet are being smoked on the grill for dinner. The baby bonobo waits outside in a heap outside to be killed and eaten or sold into the pet trade. There is no hope... (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
"Bonobo in a backpack". Bushmeat has to be hiked out of remote forests, as wildlife is now scarce or absent in all populated areas. (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
Bonobo that was trapped and then clubbed over the head. These are our closest relatives and we treat them with such violence. (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
"Bonobo in basket". Photographed here on the road to Kindu market. Once the porters have hiked the bushmeat out of the forests, they transfer to bicycles to get the meat to market. (Terese Hart /
Terese Hart /
This is gruesome reality of the bushmeat trade... In the past the local people used to target small antelope, pangolins, rodents and other small- to medium-size animals. Now the trappers simply target "bushmeat" and hunt the forests until they are cleared of wildlife... (Terese Hart /


This sequence of images from “Search for Bonobo in Congo – Field Notes from Dr Terese Hart ( are shocking to say the least and demonstrate in plain sight just how far we have fallen, how far we have pushed the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the rest of Africa towards oblivion. If you were to visit central Africa, whether it be Zambia, Malawi or the Congo, you would encounter the most generous, friendly people you are likely to meet in your life. For the most part African people are open, somewhat innocent, and almost entirely non-judgmental. This innocence can easily be stripped away by hate and fear, leaving a person that lives day to day and cannot be held accountable for their actions. We are entering desperate times on the continent, a time when the corrosive effects of alcoholism and crime are the only way out. Pull apart your natural heritage or die… We need to support John and Terese Hart in their mission to protect the three river basins of the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers (TL2), a faraway enigmatic forest in the geographic heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have explored this remote forest since 2007 and discovered great apes (the Congo’s bonobos), the okapi, an endemic rainforest giraffe, and the rare and elusive Congo peafowl. Today their challenge is to bring real protection to these forests before the bonobo and everything else are hunted out… and we are left with the “African silence”…


Message from Dr Terese Hart: “The TL2 Project has a budget of $780,000 for 2012. It is a large project that we run efficiently, fairly and transparently. One month ago we were still missing $339,000 for 2012, but because of your generosity and a proposal that was funded we are now only missing less than $99,000.  We are encouraged and sure that we will make it through the end of this year and start 2013 at full strength.”

Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.
  • Anja Denker

    This is simply heartbreaking – in my mind there is no excuse for the callous disregard and apathy regarding the decimation of wildlife globally. Rhino poaching is beyond control, the African Wild Dog is severely threatened, as are various primate species – the list goes on and on. A handful of dedicated individuals, organisations and institutions can only do so much! Greed prevails unfortunately, and often hunger too – I do not have any solutions but wish that more people wake and realise that one day our grandchildren might never know what a rhino or bonobo looks like in real life?!

  • Yvonne Pietersen

    God only knows why he planned our beautiful wildlife to live in the jungles of Africa, the only continent that is currently poluted with savages. It is a form of greed, not hunger. Greed is taking over the world in many different forms, just unfortunate Africa has so much wildlife wealth up for grabs. I don’t think there is a long term solution only a small short term relief for some of our wildlife. Good luck to all involved in their endeavours to save Africa’s treasurers.

  • BDNf

    “God only knows why he planned our beautiful wildlife to live in the jungles of Africa, the only continent that is currently poluted with savages.”

    What an ignorant and racist comment.

  • Frida

    God? If it is all planned, then we shouldn’t do anything to stop savages. But that’s not the case, I found terrible that people keep adjudging things to god.
    I think the conservation of species needs to be taken along with education programs and an economic rise for the Africans, so they stop selling bush meat.

  • Rick Bogle

    If bonobos lived in the U.S., state wildlife agencies would “scientifically manage” their population and issue seasonal hunting permits for them. We would maintain just adequate breeding populations and consume the rest in a variety of ways. Africans and North Americans are not different in this regard, we view all animals as resources and give little thought to their pain or concerns.

  • Bullseye

    The issuing permits to harvest Bonobos if it were ever possible in America would never happin you dummy in fact not anywhere in the world. Only when there’s no one to protect them, that’s the truth with all great apes. You don’t realize that it’s hunter and fishermen that actually make it possible to manage wildlife here in North America.

  • Peter Lancaster

    7 billion TOO MANY people on Planet Hell.

  • joe

    This people are really canibalist, If they tehre to kill bonobos they can easily kill humans being and eat their flesh. This hsould be stop now and for good Please stop stop stop stop it

  • Wanda

    This is such an injustice to these apes. I will never understand how humans can be so cruel to other species. I believe if we can’t save these species, it’s only a matter of time before we cease to exist. There is a bigger picture here….

  • Chris Mpassi

    I would first like to answer to the guy above who said that “these people are canibalists and that they could easily kill humans and eat their flesh”. it simply sad that someone could think that way and write such obscenities. What about those who left their continent centuries ago, occupied other people places after wiping them out of their own land, provoked the two world wars and all the other awful massacres throughout history? I don’t want to delve into that because all humans without exception we have a innate tendency to evil.
    There are however some points in the article that I don’t agree with. Even if Bonobo would share 99,999999% of genetic material with human, it is still not a human and no particular treatment should be reserved to bonobo on the sole basis of common genetic material. Arguments for conservation of bonobo should be the same as for other wildlife and based upon a correct understanding of the relations between species within an ecosystem. Let’s stop making decisions based on emotions that can easily be manipulated through well crafted media propaganda. Failing to take into account the complexities of the links between people livelihoods and developement, nature conservation and the forcces behind the global economy is a big mistake and in fact plays against conservation. Don’t take me wrong: I am for conserving bonobos just as bees, ants, giraffes and rhino. But for me bonobo is no cousin, uncle or grandpa of humans.

  • Sian

    This is tragic. I would love to know what the people who eat them think about this. Its difficult as someone who has grown up in England to understand the reasons. All I can see is the tragedy

  • Sandy Gray

    I think this has to be the most tragic situation that has been brought to people’s attention. The heartbreaking image of the baby Bonobo, treated with utter avoidance of the trauma caused to this infant and the horrific images of once living bodyparts mutilated to serve the desires of flesh eaters is utterly repugnant. I’m reminded of some of the horrifically smiley faces on certain BBC & so called animal programmes where presenters are encouraged to make fun of degrading tribal situations. They leave their ethics at the door when they do that and degrade the TV stations that they work for. This article on the other hand should be made required viewing for everyone who thinks that there is no need for christian kindness.

  • David Bevins

    So many references to God in these comments, you are all as ignorant as the people killing Bonobos. Religion is the cause of all war and conflict, and plays a big part in Africa’s unrest, which is the route of the problem here. The Bonobo’s are being hacked to death by every religious person on the planet. It makes me sick.

  • Daniel Colegrove


    Only thing that seems to change in that part of the world is: It just keeps getting worse…

    90% of what I’d have to say about it would more than likely be offensive to the general population though, so I’ll keep my “ignorant” comments to myself.

  • L. F.

    Congratulations to Mr. Lancaster. He really knows the problem of this planet

  • Rachel Ellen

    I think locals should enjoy the bonobo to eat! Who are we to say no in our great western beliefs. The bonobo is just an animal like our forest deer. So what they look like us, their not, just an animal ape. The orphans should be raised and sold as pets. It’s sure not hurting the world to have a few thousand or more as pets. Own a pet dog or cat? Ok for that and not the bonobo?

  • Siraganda

    Every kind of killing and eating animals is horrific – not just great apes – I don’t like this modern speciesism! Stop eating meat – that’s it! I’m a veg for over 40 years now and I’m in top health! With 60 years I don’t need glasses!

    So stop killing animals – ALL ANIMALS! You got it??? Also a pig has a mother and suffers when she is slaughtered! No speciesism please!

  • Advantage Safaris Africa

    It is unfortunate to see these primates that share some human traits being killed mercilessly for meat.They are almost like us,so eating and killing them is just sickening.

  • Rachel Ellen

    Let them be hunted, they are an animal, no more. I think the thrill of the kill would be that’s it is the nearest thing to killing a human! There are plenty to spare and the infants taken from the dead mother should be sold as pets. While working in Africa for 7 months a friend had one two years old as a pet. Damn fun little ape to tease. It was happy being chained up to a tree for all the kids in the village to play with and be teased.

  • Decky Wamea

    It really poor to killed animal like this..but my question is who is be ready for food supplies to African native people who is hanging they every day life in nature with animal hunted ? If Someone is ready, OK..STOP THEM TO KILLING is simple!

    Earth was really knows the balancing of nature, and human and animal is the part of actors. So, please thinking as symbiosis!

  • Judith Avery

    These photos have been shown ad nauseum all over the net!Like many others I’m sick of the entire save -the-apes moaning and sobbing! If they go extinct,so be it. I’m tired of all the stinking,buggy,useless,lousy beasts. I’m also tired of the endless comparisons of how close we are genetically to the whole bunch. A miss is as good as a mile!

  • paulm

    I always wanted to travel to africa . ButI might as well go back to Bejing, They lack compassion and eat everything that moves as well . See the comparison.

  • Paul

    If we continue to believe in religion we can never respect any other animal on this planet like we respect ourselves because we are aparently above all other species. The second most profitable business (behind governments) is religion and it is in their best interests to make everyone believe in gods, so I think there is no future for apes like the bonobo regardless of how much we care. If the human species never invented religion our world would be a far more advanced place than it is today. The time wasted on religion over the centuries would have been better spent if we studied reality eg. Science, evolution etc and the diseases that ravage humanity would be the real enemy, not the non believers. Respect and morality is evident in the bonobo society which evolved thousands of years before religion was invented. This is unfortunately their downfall because we are told that our ability to respect is only possible if we follow religious teachings. This is why you will never see the teaching of reality at schools while religion and governments have a common agenda.

  • ReggieROC

    if we are to respect all GOD’s creatures both great and small. why are we shedding tears for someone eating a Bonobo but yet we go to McDonald’s, Burger King and the likes for a Hamburger…where do you think that burger came from? Did not that cow deserve to live?

  • Dramanu Yussif

    Its a big shame that we can not protect our own. All the forest and game reserves across Africa are directly or indirectly funded by donors outside Africa. To take a gun and gun down a creature that looks almost like you, and sell or eat your likeness is a barbaric and a heinous act of the highest order.
    Come to Buaben Fiema in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana and what you see is humans and monkeys living together. Its a taboo to kill the ape and when one dies a funeral is performed for it. The co-existence of monkeys and humans at Buaben-Fiema (at home n forest) has made the area an attractive site for tourism n thereby attracting both domestic n foreign revenue.
    Govt, international agencies involved in conservation n the local people must work together to protect the bonobo. In doing this however, the local people must be educated and empowered with alternative livelihood skills to be able to make ends meet without having to resort to bonobo killing.

  • v

    This is a stupid article trying to claim that these monkeys are practically human. How stupid. As another poster said, even if they are 99.9999% close to human, they are still not human. How can you not get that? People need to eat and in many of these places, food resources are harder to come by than in the modernised countries. If you care that much about it, why don’t you lobby your governments to send food to these countries in order to save the bonobo?

    • Andrew Crome

      You are an idiot western nations do send aid its little shit holes that you come from that don’t


    plz save this animal(NG)

  • Greg Campbell

    Why do people do this?
    For money.
    Why do they need money so badly?
    Because socio-economic and political systems aren’t working to provide stability amongst unrest.
    Why aren’t political systems working?
    Because different countries and interest groups disagree with how to conduct themselves.
    Why do they disagree?
    Because there are different beliefs, systems, interests and values between countries, yet none of them condone this behaviour.

    If no country condones this, there is no reason for it to happen and is an unfortunate result of bigger issues. However, ignoring these tragic ill-effects of geographical unrest would be a crime against nature and leaning on ‘yeah but there’s unrest’ won’t be good enough in the history books. Recognising the bigger picture and knowing where intervention efforts will be most impactful down the road are fundamental to success for the future of our wildlife. ‘Band-aiding’ the immediate threats should be parallel to efforts made towards systemic change.

  • ashlie

    this page horrifies me. Don’t ever post these pictures again!!!!!!!

  • Sian fisher

    Judith Avery + Rachel Ellen…Are you actually trolling this page? How the fuck can you have that perception towards these animals/wildlife in general? I hope you both contract cancer and have a very painful death. People like you are the problem…

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