A young woman follows her fiancé to war-torn Congo to study extremely endangered bonobo apes - who teach her a new truth about love and belonging.
In 2005, Vanessa Woods accepted a marriage proposal from a man she barely knew and agreed to join him on a research trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country reeling from a brutal decade-long war that had claimed the lives of millions. Settling in at a bonobo sanctuary in Congo's capital, Vanessa and her fiancé entered the world of a rare ape with whom we share 98.7 percent of our DNA. She soon discovered that many of the inhabitants of the sanctuary - ape and human alike - are refugees from unspeakable violence, yet bonobos live in a peaceful society in which females are in charge, war is nonexistent, and sex is as common and friendly as a handshake.
A fascinating memoir of hope and adventure, Bonobo Handshake traces Vanessa's self-discovery as she finds herself falling deeply in love with her husband, the apes, and her new surroundings while probing life's greatest question: What ultimately makes us human? Courageous and extraordinary, this true story of revelation and transformation in a fragile corner of Africa is about looking past the differences between animals and ourselves, and finding in them the same extraordinary courage and will to survive. For Vanessa, it is about finding her own path as a writer and scientist, falling in love, and finding a home.
I didn't always want to push my fiancé off a balcony. Twelve months ago I would have jumped off a balcony for him. But a lot can change in a year.
We met in Uganda at the house of Debby Cox, the founder of a chimpanzee sanctuary called Ngamba Island. Debby and I had been friends for years. I first met her when I was twenty-two and fresh out of college. I was volunteering for Taronga Zoo in Sydney when I heard about the chimp island she had started for orphan chimpanzees whose parents were killed by the bushmeat trade.
Part of Debby's conservation program was counting the chimpanzees in Budongo Forest. The world's biggest population of chimpanzees was in Congo, but they were rapidly being butchered and eaten. The Ugandans had traditional taboos against eating apes, and they had the second-biggest population. But no one knew how many chimpanzees were left or where they were. My job was to lead a team of Ugandans on a census, for which I had zero ...
Bonobo Handshake is equal parts behavioral science, history, personal memoir, and coming-of-age tale. I often consider it a mistake when an author tries to cram too much into a book, trying to be all things to all readers, as the end result is often a work that does a poor job covering all aspects of the chosen material. Vanessa Woods, however, manages to pull off this balancing act in a remarkably satisfying manner.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Vanessa Woods with bonobos in a wildlife sanctuary
in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Sydney Morning Herald
Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are one of the two species that make up the genus Pan,
along with Pan troglodytes, the Common Chimpanzee. Chimps and bonobos are the
closest extant relative to humans, sharing almost 99% of our DNA. They are also
the least known of the great apes (which in addition to bonobos includes chimpanzees,
orangutans, and gorillas), and remained unidentified as a separate species until
Bonobos are sometimes referred to as pygmy chimpanzees, but this is a misnomer, as on average they weigh the same or only slightly less than common chimpanzees (approximately 85 pounds for males ...
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