Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Remettez le Bonobo

During my meeting yesterday with Minister L, a man was apparently brought in who had been trying to sell a bonobo. Minister L and I were discussing the dangers of pet ape trafficking, and he said, sort of offhandedly, "We have a bonobo here right now -- do you want to see it?"

It's always alarming to be confronted with a situation such as this one. A bonobo or chimpanzee, removed from its family and its natural habitat, is an awful thing to see. If you can imagine a tiny human orphan, starved, too-skinny, wild eyed and being massed by people and picture its fear, it comes close to the terror experienced by great ape orphans. For we all look huge, and unfamiliar, and terrifying, as most human experience for great apes involves hunting by the humans and fleeing by the apes.

It was therefore incredibly reassuring when the door opened and Fanny walked in, Fanny whom I met early in my Kinshasa visit when I went to Lola Ya Bonobo. To know that the appropriate people were already aware of the situation and that it was being handled immediately eased my sense of alarm.

Bonobo ConfiscationThe bonobo was brought into the office, terribly skinny, and already suffering from some of the side-effects of prolonged dehydration. I stayed 5 meters away, to prevent spreading any of my own disease, as many orphans succumb to disease soon after they are confiscated. Two of our orphans in Aketi did, and one of the effects of not having been able to eat or drink for 5 days.

But most others crowded around the baby, and his look of terror was awful. Despite living in Congo, most Congolese have never been outside of the major centers like Kinshasa, and therefore have never seen firsthand some of the megafauna that Congo is full of. Curiosity and excitement brewed in the office as people clamored around the grated windows, standing on their tippy toes, straining for a peek.

Fanny had brought a variety of fruits, and the bonobo, confronted with the bounty, immediately grabbed a banana and began eating ravenously. It's a good sign when the feelings of hunger overwhelm the feelings of terror, as many confiscated orphans are too scared even to eat. But it doesn't always ensure survival or success. The bonobo cried loudly, a sound that, in the wild, would bring his mother to his side immediately to comfort and protect him, but without a mother, he was left to cry alone, his mouth, overstuffed with banana, frozen in a grimace of fear and submission.

Poor scared orphan bonoboFanny made sure that all of the documentation was provided from Minister L, legally signing over guardianship of this orphan to Lola Ya Bonobo. It is SO important here, as I've mentioned many a time in this blog, to have les documents. It's what saved me on the airstrip when we were trying to escape Aketi.

It seemed to take forever, though, the process of making copies, reading everything over, again and again, and finally signing the papers and utilizing the all-important embossed stamp that makes a hand-written piece of paper a legally-binding Congolese document.

Thank goodness that Fanny left when she did, as the original proprietor of the bonobo returned, requesting money or that Minister L "Remettez le bonobo" (give him back). Another crowd ensued, which thankfully dispersed after only 30 minutes, but the tension was high as we finished our meeting.

At the end of the day's events yesterday, I left inspired to do more -- and hoping fervently that this tiny baby bonobo survives. I will of course update on both counts.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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