Congo Watch: Bonobos dying at sanctuary in DR Congo - Help Save Bonobos

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Bonobos dying at sanctuary in DR Congo - Help Save Bonobos

From The Frontline
By Rob Crilly, Nairobi
April 5, 2009
Help Save Bonobos
Help Save Bonobos

THERE is something distinctly human about Masisi, a baby bonobo. She could almost be a wide-eyed toddler as she reaches thirstily for a cuppa.

But this is no cute advertisement for a brand of tea.

Conservationists in the Democratic Republic of Congo have turned to the fortifying brew, laced with honey and lemon, to try to save a rare population of primates that has been struck down with a flu-like disease.

Six have died in the past month and another 10 bonobos have fallen desperately ill at a sanctuary close to the capital Kishasa.

You can follow their story and donate cash at http://www.friendsofbonobos.org/
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From The Sunday Times
By Rob Crilly, Nairobi
April 5, 2009

Sanctuary can only watch as flu kills rare apes

Bonobos have been struck down with a flu-like illness in their sanctuary near Kinshasa

Help Save Bonobos

A MYSTERIOUS flu-like disease is sweeping through the imperilled bonobo apes in their last havens in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Six of the rare primates have died in the past month and another 10 have fallen seriously ill at a sanctuary close to the capital, Kinshasa. With chimpanzees, they are mankind’s closest living relatives.

Vanessa Woods, a researcher at Lola Ya Bonobo, said it was heartbreaking to watch. “It starts with a cough and then they get bunged up with mucus which runs down their faces. They end up lying on their stomachs because it’s the only way they can breathe,” she said.

“When they get really bad they disappear into the forest, fall down and there’s no way we can find them.”

The sanctuary was home to 60 of the endangered apes before the disease struck. Most had been found as babies after their parents were killed for bush meat.

This year the sanctuary lost one of its major donors because of the financial crisis, and there is little money for food, medicine or tests that might explain the cause of the illness.

Staff believe the outbreak is linked to a flu epidemic that swept through Kinshasa earlier this year. For now all they can do is feed the bonobos tea, just like human patients, and hope for the best. “We watched them grow up,” said Woods. “One of them, Lodja, reminded me of my niece, so to watch her clench up and die was awful.”

Last week volunteers cradled three-year-old bonobo Masisi and fed him sips of tea laced with honey and lemon from a cup.

Bonobos live in cooperative, peaceful groups, unlike chimpanzees which display a streak of violence, and scientists believe they may hold the key to understanding how human societies evolved.

About 10,000 bonobos are thought to exist in the wild although no one knows for sure. They live only in the war-torn Congo, where their habitat is under threat.

Paula Kahumbu, chief executive of WildlifeDirect, which runs an online conservation community, said the sanctuary was £22,000 in the red: “We desperately need donations to keep these bonobos alive.”

www.friendsofbonobos.org

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