From Publishers Weekly
Devoted to learning more about bonobos, a smaller, more peaceable species of primate than chimpanzees, and lesser known, Australian journalist Woods and her fiancé, scientist Brian Hare, conducted research in the bonobos' only known habitat—civil war–torn Congo. Woods's plainspoken, unadorned account traces the couple's work at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary, located outside Kinshasa in the 75-acre forested grounds of what was once Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko's weekend retreat. The sanctuary, founded in 1994 and run by French activist Claudine André, served as an orphanage for baby bonobos, left for dead after their parents had been hunted for bush meat; the sanctuary healed and nurtured them (assigning each a human caretaker called a mama), with the aim of reintroducing the animals to the wild. Hare had only previously conducted research on the more warlike, male-dominated chimpanzee, and needed Woods because she spoke French and won the animals' trust; through their daily work, the couple witnessed with astonishment how the matriarchal bonobo society cooperated nicely using frequent sex, and could even inspire human behavior. When Woods describes her daily interaction with the bonobos, her account takes on a warm charm. Woods's personable, accessible work about bonobos elucidates the marvelous intelligence and tolerance of this gentle cousin to humans. (Apr.)
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Woods was an Australian primate lover, flitting from job to job while she tried to decide what to do with her life. Brian Hare was a newly minted American PhD. They met at a chimpanzee sanctuary in Uganda, fell in love, and a year later were on a plane to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had suffered a decade-long war, fought over its vast resources of diamonds, gold, cobalt, and other minerals, and in which more than five million died. The human suffering had fostered a rise in the bush-meat trade, and one of the prime targets was bonobos, the “other” chimpanzee. The story of Woods’ and Hare’s research at the only bonobo sanctuary in the world mixes the intimacy of memoir with the science of behavioral research. As Woods comes to know her new husband, she also begins to know the resident bonobos. Bonobos share, use sex to settle arguments, and possess almost 99 percent of our DNA. This mostly joyous book is not afraid to talk about the terrible recent history of the Congo, but ultimately it comes down on the side of hope—for the Congo and the bonobos. --Nancy Bent