'Hippies of the forest' dying out in DRC

By David Lewis

Kinshasa - Pygmy chimpanzees, dubbed "hippies of the forest" for resolving conflicts through sex rather than violence, are dying out faster than ever in post-war Democratic Republic of the Congo, a conservationist said on Tuesday.

Bonobos, the rarest of the great apes, are being killed in large numbers, two years after the official end of the most recent war in the DRC.

"In 1980, there were about 100 000 bonobos in Congo. In 1990 there were thought to be 10 000," said Claudine André, founder of the Lola ya Bonobo (Bonobo Paradise) sanctuary near Kinshasa.

"Since then we have had two wars, their habitat has been occupied and the post-conflict period has been even harder, so I fear for what the situation is now," she said.

Experts warn bonobos, one of man's closest relatives, could die out within 50 years from poaching, logging and disease.

Hundreds of conservationists and policy makers from 23 countries are in Kinshasa to map out a survival plan for the great apes.

"Bonobos are the species of great ape that is most likely to disappear," André said.

Only found in remote corners of DRC, the "forgotten ape" is said by scientists to be one of the least hostile primates.

"The bonobo's outlook is to search for peace," André said. "All their conflicts are resolved peacefully, often through sex. They are the hippies of the forest."

There are around 150 bonobos living in captivity, but André hopes to rehabilitate and release some of her 43 orphans back into the wild.

An organised bush meat trade and crippling poverty in the forests compound the threat to the apes.

"If man destroys his closest cousin, he might destroy all animal species," André said, as a group of young bonobos drank from a bottle and ate bananas in a cage behind her.

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