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  • Writer's pictureFriends of Bonobos

Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary Featured in 'Queens' Nature Documentary

Bonobos, Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, and female power will all be in the spotlight in the nature documentary series “Queens,” available from March 4 on the National Geographic channel.

The innovative series is narrated by award-winning actress Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”). “Queens” also will be released on Disney+ and Hulu on March 5, 2024.

The seven-episode series tells the dramatic stories of 10 animal species around the globe who are led by strong matriarchs – including bonobos, lions, jewel bees, and orcas.

The final episode focuses on the equally compelling story behind the scenes – the creation of a women-led production team, groundbreaking in nature documentary filmmaking.

Episode seven also showcases the powerful, resilient women working to save these animals from extinction – including Lola ya Bonobo surrogate mother Peguy Kiadi and Suzy Kwetuenda, sanctuary visitor manager.

'Queens' National Feogrpahic promotional image laid on top of a film clip showing a human bathing a baby bonobo

Producer Wildstar Films came to Lola ya Bonobo in June of 2022. The team had filmed wild bonobos and hoped to capture scenes they still wanted, such as bonobos harvesting and eating water lilies. On their journey from the UK, more than 70 pieces of their luggage holding camera gear were lost in transit. Intent on achieving their goal, they managed to rustle up new equipment in Kinshasa.

Filming at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary

In order to film bonobos at Lola without getting too close, they had to find a very stable pontoon boat large enough for the camera equipment and camerawomen. The filmmakers spent days on the rented boat in the hot sun, filming from the lake adjacent to Lola's Enclosure 1.

At Lola, the filmmakers saw another story they could tell – about the dedicated people working with bonobos. They were impressed with the determined surrogate mamas who give orphaned bonobo babies intensive, day-to-day care and attention - healing the traumatized orphans with love.

Producer and director Faith Musembi returned in July 2022 to film that story, which is part of the final episode.

We could have easily filmed a whole series on the phenomenal work that the surrogate mamas do for the conservation of bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo,” said Musembi. “The mamas have dedicated their lives to caring for the orphaned bonobos - quite often nursing them back to health and helping them rehabilitate against all odds."

“During the time we spent filming the mamas they inspired us for many reasons, but most importantly: they reminded us that sometimes the most significant change comes from doing the little we can with what we have within our sphere of influence,” Musembi said.



Two women looking at camera at evening event
Faith Musembi, film director, left, and Maia Doughtie, Friends of Bonobos staff member, at 'Queens' event during New York Fashion Week 2024.

Creating Opportunities

In an interview with Rick Bentley for, Musembi, who is Kenyan, talked about the challenges of finding her path in her chosen field.

“One of the unique things about this genre is it has typically and traditionally been done by British white men … Kenya doesn’t have a shortage of wildlife content that’s filmed in our country, but the crazy thing is me, as a Kenyan, up until ‘Queens,’ there were no inroads for me to work in the industry because everything is staffed out of England or other western countries.”

Staff of Lola ya Bonobo help move Queens filming boat from sanctuary entrance to the lake
Staff of Lola ya Bonobo help move Queens filming boat from sanctuary entrance to the lake.

The vision of Wildstar Films and support from National Geographic came together to give Musembi the chance to work on “Queens.”

Speaking with Glamour's Jessica Radloff, Wildstar Co-founder Vanessa Berlowitz credited National Geographic with supporting her company’s commitment to empowering up-and-coming women natural history filmmakers, and backing a female-centered story. NatGeo funding allowed them to bring women with less experience into the crew and provided training that allowed them to contribute to the series.

Much like female bonobos who form coalitions and share their power, the company created Wildstar Academy to continue financing emerging women nature documentarians to tell the powerful stories of our changing planet.

“Queens” showrunner and writer is Chloe Sarosh, and directors of photography are Sophie Darlington and Justine Evans. Berlowitz and National Geographic’s Pamela Caragol serve as executive producers. Janet Han Vissering is senior vice president of Development and Production for NatGeo.

The series episodes are “African Queens,” Rainforest Queens,” (featuring bonobos) “Tiny Jungle Queens,” “Savanna Queens,” “Mountain Queens,” “Coastal Queens” and “Behind the Queens.”

Check out the intense trailer for the series, featuring Billie Eilish’s song “you should see me in a crown.”



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