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Celebrating International Women's Day

On International Women's - a day set aside to recognise women and their contributions - Friends of Bonobos has a lot to celebrate, a whole lot, in fact! Like the matriarchal bonobos we protect, our organisation is female-led.

In the day-to-day activities of our conservation organisation we take our lead from bonobo characteristics - sharing, caring, and cooperation. Read on to learn more about amazing women across three continents who are dedicating their lives to bonobo conservation.

A courageous woman founded Friends of Bonobos

Back in 1994, whilst running a boutique and raising five children in Kinshasa against a backdrop of political unrest and violence, Claudine André founded Les Amis des Bonobos du Congo (ABC) to support orphaned bonobos. Claudine fell in love with the beautiful ape whilst volunteering at the city’s zoo.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) created extreme poverty. Zoo animals were unlikely to be fed while much of the human population starved and many people of DRC were turning to wild animals, such as bonobos, for food. More and more bonobo babies were orphaned and in need of intensive care. Claudine was desperate to save them.

Claudine recalls: “The zoo director warned me not to pour my heart into it. It’s not an easy animal to keep in captivity. But it was like a second challenge to me – not only to save the zoo, but also to save this bonobo. It was Mikeno, my first bonobo.”

With compassionate mothering, the baby lived

Every bonobo orphan before Mikeno had died at the zoo. But Claudine stayed with the infant, held him, played with him, and reassured him he was safe. With Claudine’s compassion, mothering, and determination not to lose Mikeno, the little bonobo survived.

Claudine André with a baby bonobo

In the years since, studies have shown bonobos are extremely affectionate, vulnerable to stress, and dependent on physical contact. The secret Claudine uncovered was that nutritious food and medical care are not enough to save an orphan. Baby bonobos need affection to thrive.

ABC’s education efforts now reach more than 50,000 people a year. Bonobos have gone from being totally unknown to one of the most beloved animals in the minds of the Congolese.

You must never lose hope, because there is always a solution.

--Claudine André, founder, ABC

Claudine also reached international audiences through books about bonobos for children and adults, documentaries, and a feature-length film. Globally, she became a highly respected conservationist, recognized with honors including the Badham-Evans Award for Women’s Commitment to Wildlife (UK), the Prince Laurent Foundation Prize (Belgium), and the National Order of Merit (France).

Today, we also recognise Claudine Andre’s compassion, the importance of mothering and female relationships in the evolution of the bonobo - our closest genetic relatives - and the contributions that women bring.

Like mother, like daughter

Fanny Minesi, General Director, ABC

Although Claudine is still very active in ABC, the baton of running the charity today has been passed to Claudine’s daughter, Fanny Minesi.

I believe a better future is possible for bonobos and Congolese people, and that these goals are inseparable.

-- Fanny Minesi, General Director, ABC

As general director of ABC, Fanny manages every aspect of organization, from the sanctuary (Lola ya Bonobo) and the release site (Ekola ya Bonobo), to the growing educational programs and visitor services. Through ABC's efforts with Fanny at the helm, Ekolo ya Bonobo has grown to encompass more than 120,000 acres, a special place where bonobos are thriving and protected and baby bonobos grow up comforted by their mother’s love.

In 2021, Fanny received the McKenna-Travers Award for Compassionate Conservation

from the Born Free Foundation in recognition of her leadership and "outstanding conservation and animal welfare achievements." She also was recognized in 2021 for her conservation leadership as a Femme de Valeur (Woman of Honor) by Nyota Africa.

More strong women leaders

Conservation success requires building a strong team, and ABC's team is primarily Congolese. Women direct and lead key activities, including the human foster 'mamas' for the bonobo orphans and Suzy Kwetuenda, Coordinator of Bonobo Wellness.

Suzy studied biology and ecology at Kinshasa University, and came to work at Lola ya Bonobo in 2005, starting as an intern.

Suzy wears many hats at ABC. She manages all aspects of bonobo life at Lola ya Bonobo, from nutrition to intergroup social conflict, and is a key member of the bonobo rewilding team. Over the years she has worked on numerous bonobo behavioral research studies.