ISIS, climate change, human trafficking, globalization, poverty and hunger, water crises, overpopulation, and GMO’s. We are living in a world where seemingly insurmountable realities fueled by our own insatiable consumerism are at every turn. When faced with all that is wrong with the world, is there room for hope, love or even a little compassion? Perhaps we can look backwards in our evolutionary trajectory for an example of something to inspire us forward and toward more sustainable treatment of each other and the earth. I propose that we look to a natural starting place - to our closest living genetic relative – to the relatively unknown BONOBO.
For various reasons, most folks have never heard of bonobos, so I’ll describe them quickly in a few sentences here and you will begin to see why I believe bonobos are a symbol of hope. Bonobos have 98.7% of the same DNA as humans, making them our closest genetic relative along with the chimpanzee. Physically, bonobos look similar to chimps, but with darker faces, more elegant limbs, a part down the middle of their hair and adorable pink lips. Bonobos are the only great apes that are matriarchal; their groups are ruled by female alliances. They are the only great apes that have NEVER been seen to kill one another. In fact, it is known that bonobos are the only great apes that tend to reduce tensions in their groups (and between different bonobo groups) through any combination of sexual contact.
Bonobos and their societies are unique and inspiring, but they are endangered with about 15,000 left in the wild. Bonobos only live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a nation a quarter the size of the entire US with a long history of colonization, civil war and extreme poverty, but it is a nation rich in natural resources. DRC is on the brink of exploding economically with international investments from China, the US and Europe. While those investments will aid in the development of DRC’s infrastructure, if history repeats itself, this development will be at the cost of the environment and will surely negatively affect the natural habitat of the bonobo ranges.
Now that you know what bonobos are, why they are so unique and the troubles they are facing in the Congo Basin rainforest, let’s turn to what we are doing in order to aid in the preservation of bonobos.
In 2014, I started the non-profit organization, The Bonobo Project. Through collaborative campaigns aimed at raising the profile of bonobos among the masses here in the US, we hope to gain the momentum and funding necessary to sustain a movement that will support thriving populations of bonobos in their natural habitat. The number of bonobos is dwindling mostly because of illegal poaching, therefore we must address the human-animal conflict in sustainable and culturally respectful ways.
The Bonobo Project supports various projects that work at the community level to ensure the protection of the bonobos by the Congolese. My blog will take you through my journey of running a non-profit, traveling in the Congo, and my experiences of working to conserve this most majestic of great apes.
My name is Ashley Stone. I’m 43 years old. Mother of 3. Wife. Southerner by birth. Southern Californian by marriage. Social Worker by training. Conservationist by instinct. Athlete. Adventurer. Advocate. These are just a few words I would use to define myself. But, 3.5 years ago (at 40 – what a cliché!), my life took on new meaning and purpose.
Like many at this life stage, I had been shuttling up and down the roads of motherhood, marriage and my 30’s with autopilot-like precision. As fate would have it though, somewhere between dropping my kids off and picking up groceries, I grabbed the wheel, took a sharp turn on an unfamiliar road and found myself at the Left Bank of the Congo River amongst the most majestic creatures on the planet.
Bonobos are my passion and their existence, my career. The Bonobo Project is my new home. The Bonobo Diaries is where I will share my heart. Welcome to all, whether you know and love bonobos or you want to know and love bonobos.
I Bonobo You.