Vanessa Woods is a research assistant, journalist, and author of children's books.
She is the author of the New York Times Bestseller The Genius of Dogs (2013), and Bonobo Handshake (2010), which won the Thomas Lowell Award for non fiction. In 2007, her children's book, It's True: Space Turns you into Spaghetti, won the Acclaimed Book award from the Royal Society. In 2005, Vanessa won the Australasian Science award for journalism.
Her other titles include Headstarts: 100 tips for raising clever, confident, creative kids (2011), It's Every Monkey for Themselves (2007), It's True: pirates ate rats (2007), and It's True: there are bugs in your bed (2004).
A member of the Hominoid Psychology Research Group, she works with Duke University as well as Lola Ya Bonobo in Congo. She is also a feature writer for the Discovery Channel, and her writing has appeared in publications such as BBC Wildlife and Travel Africa. She is the co-founder of www.dognition.com, a website that involves the community in citizen science by evaluating and comparing the cognition of dogs.
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Even before you met Brian, you rescued chimps in Uganda and chased monkeys in Costa Rica. What is it that draws you to working with primates?
They remind me so much of humans. I know I'm not supposed to anthropomorphize, but especially with chimps and bonobos, they share 98.7% of our DNA, a lot of them is human. I feel like I can understand them, in ways I couldn't understand a bug or a sea sponge.
Currently, bonobos only live in Congo. Did they once occupy a broader habitat? If so, does their peaceful nature undermine their ability to survive amongst more ferocious species?
The Congo Basin, where bonobos live, was once larger, and when it shrank, bonobo range shrunk also. But bonobos aren't threatened by other species, because they don't share their habitat with chimpanzees or gorillas. I can't imagine an encounter between chimps and bonobos would work out well for bonobos, so that's lucky, and because they don't have gorillas, a lot of the food they depend on, an herbaceous root, is theirs alone.
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