In search of Congo’s wild bonobos in Lomako.
Once again we propose an exclusive trip to one of the most remote and inaccessible places in Africa: the heart of the Congo jungle.
On this 22-day expedition, a small group of 6 travellers will enter the pristine Congo rainforest, to focus solely on the search for wild bonobos in the Lomako – Yokokala Wildlife Reserve, one of the most elusive and difficult primates to observe in the wild.
To increase our chances of success on this expedition, we will spend 6 days and 6 nights at the Iyema scientific centre, located in the middle of the primary forest of Lomako, from where we will be tracking for bonobos every morning. The tracking will take a good number of hours.
What to expect from this expedition?
We want to be very clear and straightforward, this fascinating yet complicated destination called the Democratic Republic of Congo demands it.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a difficult country, unstructured, chaotic, without infrastructure, expensive and where everything can change very quickly. We know this and we have experienced, suffered and enjoyed it in all our previous expeditions. We must not forget that there is no area free of social or tribal problems in the DRC and where there are none, they can arise out of nowhere in an explosive way. We want you to be very clear, nothing is guaranteed in this country.
This expedition is aimed at the traveller who enjoys the pleasure of travelling, navigating and walking the primary rainforests of the Congo, without “props”, visiting an untouched place, where visitors who have arrived in recent years can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Besides enjoying the experience of going out in search of a primate that can only be found in the DR Congo.
I guess if you’ve made it this far (reading our website or knowing us), I don’t need to tell you that it’s not about what accommodations, lodges, elaborate meals, cold drinks or pampered attentions I’m going to get for the financial cost of the trip, it’s about experiencing the untouched rainforest of Congo and having encounters with its endemic wildlife with a small group of 6 travellers. In this expedition, food will be essential on many occasions and you will have to camp for many days at a time.
Type of accommodation during the bonobo expedition trip
All accommodation beyond Kinshasa and Mbandaka will be absolutely very basic, and in many cases we will camp directly. We may camp or stay in Christian Missions, in villages or directly in the bush. If luck smiles on us, we may camp on top of a balanier and enjoy the wonderful Congolese bush from above.
We will travel in one or two assembled wooden canoes, about 12 – 15 metres, with a canvas roof to protect us from rain and sun. There are no hotels or huts or anything like that in Lomako. We will be staying in a basic camp with the researchers and trackers for almost a week at their work site. It is not a hotel or a lodge.
Lomako Yokokala Wildlife Reserve
The Lomako-Yokokala Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to some 1,000 bonobos. In this reserve in the middle of the Congo rainforest, the Antwerp ZOO Centre for Research and Conservation (ACRC) together with the Congo Wildlife Authority have established a wildlife reserve and scientific research centre. We will spend six days tracking Lomako – Yokokala on foot in search of bonobos.
Bonobos, the hippie primate of Congo
Known as the dwarf chimpanzees (not entirely true) or the “hippie” primate, wild bonobos are found only south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Bonobos share 98.7% of their genetic code with humans, making them, along with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. Bonobos were the last great simians to be scientifically discovered.
In the behaviour of bonobos and especially bonobos, priority is given to sexuality and friendly bonds (especially between females), in contrast to the dominance struggles (especially between males) and intergroup warfare of chimpanzees.
Bonobo tracking in Lomako
To participate in this trip you need to be in good physical shape as you will be walking for 5 or 6 hours a day in the forest with the trackers. Bonobo tracking is not comparable to gorilla or chimpanzee tracking, as the tracking is more complicated and the observations are usually more fleeting.
Kitawalists, probably Africa’s most isolated religious community
At one of the most remote ends of the Lomako Wildlife Reserve, a large group of people belonging to the Kitawala “sect” live on the fringes of society and the Congolese state.
This community of Kitawalistas has been living self-sufficiently and also in an authorised manner within the reserve for decades. Among other things, this community of Kitawalistas live without clothes and do not accept western education.
According to those in charge of Lomako, they have told us that they perform many ceremonies and religious practices. They believe in the reincarnation of ancestors and communication with the dead through a potion administered by a “Mwalimu”. They incorporated their own superstitions and esoteric practices into this religion and believed in paradise, an earthly Eden where all blacks would be reborn and become white.
If all went well during the trip, we left the door open to try to reach the eastern end of the reserve and visit this religious community.
Reaching the Lomako Reserve
Lomako is one of the most inaccessible and remote reserves on the African continent. It will take us 5 days of sailing through the Congo, Lulonga, Maringa and Lomako rivers. These days of sailing are an experience in themselves.
Navigation of the Congo River and some tributaries
Navigating the stretch of the Congo River will be spectacular. Populations suspended over the water, huge barges crowded with goods and people, and the sensation of travelling on one of the most mythical rivers on the planet.
The Lulonga River will take us to Basankuso, known as the “capital” of the bonobo. On the banks of the Lulonga we will see impressive Christian missions and stop at one of them.
The banks of the Lulonga are also inhabited by some Balumbe pygmy groups, who lost their ancestral culture decades ago. In Basankuso, after the serious events between the local population and Ekola Ya Bonobo that took place in June 2023 and in which we were involved, we will probably (and sadly) not stop in and around this village, although we know that the situation is calmer (see press articles about what happened). We will continue on to the Maringa River and then on to the breathtakingly beautiful Lomako River, meandering through the jungle.
Jungle, bonobos, sailing and also the “geeks” of the Congo.
Travellers accompanying us on this bonobos expedition in Congo will not leave the country without visiting some of the country’s bizarre religious groups. One of the most impressive is the Church of the Blacks, whose headquarters are on our route.
If you want more information about the Bonobos Expedition in Congo, leave us your full name and phone number in the form and we will contact you.