The first bonobo to arrive in San Diego was a male, Kakowet, who was estimated to be 18 months old. He was captured as a youngster by natives in the Lac Leopold II region of what was then the Congo Republic, brought to the village of Inongo, and eventually taken to the zoo in the country’s capital, which is now called Kinshasa. Raised in the home of that zoo’s manager, he became a part of their family. In 1960, the zoo’s director made a gift of this rare bonobo to the San Diego Zoo. During his long flight from the Congo he was allowed free run of the airplane! Soon after his arrival in San Diego he was placed in our Children’s Zoo, where his gentle and affectionate nature made a big hit with all. He was raised with a young gorilla, orangutan, and chimpanzee for company, and what adventures they had! In 1962, 6-year-old female Linda arrived here from the Antwerp Zoo in Belgium. They immediately became fast friends, and the pair produced 3 male and 7 female offspring over 18 years at the San Diego Zoo.
Today, there are nine bonobos in the troop, residing in a spacious home in the Zoo’s Lost Forest below the gorillas’ lush habitat. What you’ll notice is that these intelligent animals are a lot of fun to watch. Their exhibit is dominated by giant rock outcroppings and distinctive, twisted palms, on which the playful bonobos nimbly climb. Waterfalls and streams add to the African rain forest atmosphere. But the real show is the bonobos themselves—just a few minutes observing them in action, and you’ll realize how smart they really are!
Sadly, there are few bonobos left in the wild, and so they are considered the most endangered of the great apes. Humans continue to move into bonobo habitat, hunting these amazing apes for food and selling their babies into the pet trade. Commercial logging operations create new roads to harvest timber, giving people easier access to hunt or capture many rain forest species, including bonobos. Conservationists estimate that at least 4,000 wild chimpanzees and bonobos are killed every year to satisfy the demand for “ape steaks.” Furthermore, the bonobo’s range is within one unstable country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which puts their populations in a more precarious position than if their range overlapped many countries.
There are also few bonobos in zoos. The San Diego Zoo has successfully bred and maintained these intelligent and curious apes since 1960, and we continue to fund conservation efforts for them in central Africa.