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Apologies for delayed posting

Times have been a bit crazy lately!

Sorry for not keeping up with the posts but we’re getting back into the sing of things now and promise to post all the latest news from Lola and Ekolo!

Women against violence – be more bonobo!

In the US, 600 women are sexually assaulted every day. One woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds. Despite education campaigns and law enforcement, and penalties, violence continues to threaten women throughout America. What can we do to make women safe?

I believe bonobos, may have the answer. Once I saw Tatango, an unusually aggressive bonobo male, run up to Mimi, the alpha female, and backhand her across the face. He hit her so hard he almost gave her whiplash. Within seconds, five females in the group ran to Mimi’s rescue. They chased Tatango around the night building until he fled into the forest. When he continued his aggressive outbursts, those five females beat him so badly, they damn near ripped off his testicles. After that, Tatango never caused another problem.

One male is stronger than any one female. But no male is stronger than many females. As women, we tend to isolate ourselves. At the office, we backstab our female colleagues and women are mostly bullied by other women.

In this way, we are more like chimpanzees. Like us, chimpanzees are male dominated. Females don’t form strong friendships. They tend to spend a lot of time alone. And when the males reach adolescence, they start battering every female in the group. Like in humans, most of the beatings aren’t about doing a lot of damage, they are about asserting dominance and maintaining control.

Scientific research has already shown that women are more intimate and emotional in their friendships than men, they turn to female friends in times of stress, and our very biochemistry is set up to benefit by female bonding.

The true purpose of a sisterhood isn’t to have gossip buddies, a sewing circle, or a lunch gang. It is a powerful alliance that will protect and shelter you from the battering of work, life, and the occasional chimpanzee male.

As the Czech proverb goes, don’t protect yourself with a fence, but rather with your friends.

My new book, Bonobo Handshake, is out now. Buy it here on Amazon or visit my website

Are we hardwired to kill

We like to think that murderers are psychopaths, with some kind of abnormal psychology that would never appear in us, or someone we know. And yet most of us think we would kill in certain situations, like if we were at war, or someone was about to kill a person we loved.

How ‘natural’ is this instinct in us, and can we ever obliterate it completely.

In my new book, Bonobo Handshake, I talk about lethal aggression in one of our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees and humans have a lot in common when it comes to killing.

#1 Killers are mostly male. Though female chimpanzees can participate in killing, usually the killers are males. In humans too, the FBI reported in 2005 that 89% of killers are male

#2 Males usually attack when the ratio is 3:1. Wrangham and Wilson reported that both chimpanzees and young men in gangs attack when they outnumber their victim 3 to 1 or more. The reason for this? This is the minimum number that can safely overpower a single victim.

#3 The muder rate between chimps and humans is the same. Before we had inventive weaponry that could kill thousands with the press of a button, humans lived in hunter gatherer groups where we lived off the land like chimpanzees. Watts et al, reported that in these societies the homicide rate in humans and chimps is about the same.

#4 We kill for the same reason. Most of the killing is done over females, enemy males, and territory.Think of all the mass wars. Despite the hype of liberation and democracy, what were they really fought over?

Scary how much we have in common. Luckily, we also have a lot in common with our other closest relative, the bonobo. Bonobos, like us, can be extremely cooperative and tolerant. Bonobos don’t kill each other, and they aren’t particularly violent.

The key in bonobos seems to be tolerance. In our 2007 study, we found that tolerance makes bonobos more cooperative than chimpanzees. We’ve also found that physiologically, bonobos have a very different response to chimps in potentially tense situations.

When there is only one pile of food, bonobos experience an increast in cortisol, a stress hormone, while chimpanzees have a spike in testosterone. This means that when there’s potential for trouble, bonobos get stressed and chimps get ready to fight.

These phsyiological changes aren’t something bonobos or chimps can control. But as humans, we need to figure out the situations where we are more chimp than bonobo and correct for our behavior.

For instance, during recessions, where resources are tight, historically we see a crackdown on immigration (like the Arizona immigration strategy).

Correspondingly, if you want to see the murder rate go down, you have to figure out when murder is most likely to occur (again, over females, attacks on enemy males, and territory).

People get freaked out when you talk about a biological basis for aggression. But until you take ALL the factors into account, we’re going to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

*My new book Bonobo Handshake is out now. It’s available on Amazon, or through my website

Am I coming to a city near you?

Come and see me as I promote my new book about Lola’s bonobos Bonobo Handshake

Why bonobos will save the world

When I wake up this morning, someone might try to kill me. I live 10 minutes from a small town called Durham, NC, where according to the last statistics, 22 people were killed, 76 women were raped, and there were 682 cases of aggravated assault.

When a chimpanzee wakes up in the morning, they probably have the same thought. In fact, if you’re a male chimpanzee, you’re more likely to be killed by another chimpanzee than anything else. If you’re a female chimpanzee, expect to be beaten by every adolescent male who is making his way up through the ranks.

People often ask me why humans are so intelligent, as in, what is it other apes lack that makes us so unique.

I’ll tell you this: I would swap every gadget I own – my car, my laptop, the potential to fly to the moon – if I could wake up as a bonobo. No bonobo has ever been seen to kill another bonobo. There is very little violence towards females. The infants get an idyllic childhood where they do nothing but hang out with their moms and get anything they want. There is plenty of food. Lots of sex.

And yet, according to one of our studies, 75% of people have no idea what a bonobo is.

This isn’t really our fault. It’s been 13 years since Frans de Waal published Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, and since then, there has not been one popular book published on bonobos until I wrote Bonobo Handshake which is out today.

Compare this to over 300 books published on polar bears, 240 books on chimpanzees, and 380 books on mosquitoes.

This is partly because bonobos are so rare. There are as few as 10,000 left in the wild. And they only live in one country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has suffered the bloodiest war since World War II.

But it’s also because politicians, scientists, and the media have been trying very hard to pretend they don’t exist. Why?

Bonobos have gay sex. For bonobos, sex is a mechanism to reduce tension. And you can’t talk about two females rubbing clitorises together until they orgasm in documentaries, intelligent design classes, or to right wing demographics who believe homosexuality is unnatural.

Bonobos are not considered to be family friendly, despite the fact that children can see people cut up, blown up and shot before 8pm on television.

When it comes to scientists, even scientists who I like and admire, only ever refer to ‘our closest living relative, the chimpanzee’. There is never any mention that we have TWO closest living relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo.

If scientists do speak about them, they are constantly trying to neuter them. Bonobo researchers get annoyed by bonobos’ reputation of being the over sexed ape, and are constantly downplaying the differences between bonobos and chimps. Even in cognition studies, despite Kanzi, bonobos are rarely tested for cognition because ‘we’ve already done this in chimps, why should we do it in bonobos?’

As for politicians, bonobos never had a chance. Acknowledging the existence of an ape who shares 98.7% of our DNA (suggesting descent with modification i.e. evolution), has homosexual interactions, and is female dominated, is completely out of the question.

Microsoft spell check doesn’t even register ‘bonobo’ as a word.

And so bonobos have remained, locked in the cupboard like an embarrassing relative.

As a lemur scientists once said to me, ‘So what? No one knows about sifakas’ (the dancing lemurs, even though they do, because of the cartoon Madagascar) ‘why should bonobos be any different?’

Because bonobos hold the key to a world without war. Their physiology, biochemistry, and psychology is set up to avoid violence. The fact that sex is their mechanism to reduce tension is irrelevant. We need to study the hell out of bonobos and use our big fat brains to find our own mechanism so we can live peacefully.

We’ve had 26 days without war since WWII. Right now, there are 7 conflicts throughout the world killing over 1,000 people a year. In Congo alone, 1,500 people die every day. Despite cognitively knowing that we need to cooperate and get along (and in some instances we excel at this – but not  health care reform), our emotions get in the way.

We have to find a way to be more like bonobos. They share 98.7% of our DNA. What’s in that 1.3% that makes them the way they are? And if we can use hummingbird flight to make helicopters and cat’s eyes to make reflector lights, why can’t we use bonobos to make peace on earth?

2010 is going to be the year of bonobos. With my book coming out, Sara Gruen releasing the first fiction about bonobos, and the bonobo genome due any day, expect bonobos to move to the front of public consciousness.

Stay tuned for more articles on how bonobos are gonna rock your world.

My new book Bonobo Handshake is out today. It’s available on Amazon, or through my website

Blog merge!

Hey everyone,

I’m on book tour today for Bonobo Handshake, so I don’t have time to write the 3 blogs that I run now. So for the next few weeks, I’m goign to be merging the Friends of Bonobos blog and the Wildlife Direct blog with my Psychology Today blog. I hope you guys still have fun reading it!


Bonobo Handshake book launch Thursday!

If anyone is in the Raleigh/ Durham/ Chapel Hill region, I’ll be talking at the Regulator book store on Thursday evening. For more tour details please visit:

Bonobo Handshake out this week!

lr BH cover

Hey everyone,

I just wanted to let you know that something very exciting is happening this week. I’ve been working on a book about Lola’s bonobos for 5 years, and it’s finally out this Friday.

It’s about all the bonobos we work with at Lola, the whole stories of those you know so well, like Lomela and Kata.

As you all know, there aren’t many books on bonobos – maybe 5 in total. So I’m so happy to contribute to the literature. The more people who know about these wonderful creatures, and the more people  will want to save them.

Part of the proceeds of the book go to the sanctuary. I hope you will enjoy it. It’s my gift to the bonobos.

You can order it here

And visit the website for funny stories, photos and videos:

To the ones that made it

In honor of the baby bonobo who died this week, I wanted to talk about those who made it. Below is Lomela, who arrived at the sanctuary in 2007. She was so malnourished, all her hair fell out, and she had kwashiorkor, the distended belly you see in famine children. No one thought she would make it. But I took this photo one afternoon of Lomela sitting with Mwanda, another orphan. Mwanda didn’t try to play with Lomela or steal her food, like she did with the other orphans in the nursery. Instead, she sat quietly with her, hugged her, and groomed her foot.

Lomela made it, and is now one of the bonobos that has been released into the wild.

She owes her survival to her strength of spirit, and a little kindness from her friends.


My new book Bonobo Handshake is out next week. Amazon is currently having a sale – $11.69 instead of the $26 rrp – cheaper than my author discount! Part of the profits go to Lola ya Bonobo.

Help James save the gorillas

James first wrote to me to find out how he could help bonobos when he was 11. Now he is all growed up at 13, has met Jane Goodall, Kanzi, and has just become a general superstar.

He is one of three finalists in his category for the National ME TO WE Award. If he is chosen there will be $5000 donated to his cause of helping gorillas and the people who live near them.

Congo has suffered extreme violence in the last decade and the park rangers are the only thing between the gorillas and death. Read about their plight here. Then vote for James.

I am James and I am 13 years old and I really hope you can vote for me for the 2010 “Youth in Action ME to WE Award.” I am one of three finalists in my category and the winner will be decided by an on line vote from May 13-27, 2010.

I have done all I can to help apes and the people who live near them. My 1000classrooms project gives an income to widows of Park Rangers who have been killed protecting gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; feeds hungry children; protects endangered gorillas; and saves their rain forest habitat. Also, it educates 1000’s of Canadian kids about the threats to people, animals, and the environment in Africa. You can read more if you visit
I really want to win this award because there will be a $5000 donation to a charity of my choice and the widows, kids, and gorillas REALLY need our help. Also, it will get more attention to the horrors in the Congo and raise even more money. Your vote could save lives! Also, I think ME to WE is a great organization.

Please vote here