After taking a glimpse last week at gorillas as they confront an ever harsher battle against extinction, it's time to look at two other members of the Great Ape family - chimpanzees and their close war-shunning, love-making relatives, the bonobos.
Our closest living relatives, sharing more than 98 percent of our genetic makeup, these great apes are also endangered by bushmeat hunters and habitat destruction, even if somewhat less so than gorillas.
Their habitat range takes them all across sub-Saharan Africa but much of the continuity has been disrupted by human encroachment.
Chimpanzee habitat across Africa - Jane Goodall Institute of Canada
My encounter with them occurs in Kibale National Park in western Uganda, a beautiful forest at about 4,500 feet. They're in groups of dozens, some buildings nest of leaves and branches for an afternoon nap.
A group of others has just descended the branches and trunks and is loping off. Of course I miss them as I drop my camera in some gunk.
All I can say is don't stand directly underneath them when they're in the treetops chowing down on fruit - not unless you want a golden shower and a crown of crap. A guy only a few feet away now has his hair and shirt covered in shit. Manna from heaven!
War-Shunning, Love-Making Bobobos
These ape cousins of ours, reputed to be even closer relatives than the chimpanzee, are now only found in the deep equatorial forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on the left bank of the Congo River. Standing more upright than a chimpanzee but less so than a human, they're estimated to number only some 10,000, as opposed to 100,000 in 1980.
When under stress they're famed for making love, not war, regardless of sex or age, a rampant example of modern-day equal opportunity. About two hours outside Kinshasa, DRC's capital, at the Lola Ya Bonobo Orphanage, infants and youngsters rescued from poachers are rehabilitated and eventually released into their jungle habitat, a 1,000 miles or so and a week's journey up the river.
In a huge forest enclosure protected by an electric-topped fence, several dozen bonobos roam and play in family groups, grooming each other, making faces, and otherwise having a great time, producing elongated grimaces with lips protruding forward like long tubes.
Bonobos at rest and play
One of them decides to put on a spontaneous show, balancing a long stick on his back, running proudly on all fours without it ever coming close to falling off. Now he walks, carrying it wedged between his shoulder and the side of his jaw.
The stick schtick
At a nursery for infants a tiny baby in diapers grabs on to its foster mother while others swing from bars.
Yours Truly manages some splendid antics, too, electrocuting himself. In my enthusiasm to snap every bonobo gesture, I advance hands and camera too far in, crash into the wires, and am propelled backwards with a very nasty jolt amid flashes and an electricity-charged camera (fortunately photos unharmed).
The bonobo nursery
[Upcoming blog next Sunday: Animal Planet on the Looney Front on the Great Apes, Part III - Orangutans]
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.