Ashley Judd loves bonobos – or one in particular…

July 19, 2010


Keza, one of the bonobos at Lola, has a new friend – Ashley Judd! The Hollywood starlet is also a human rights activist, and has traveled to Congo several times to raise awareness for the suffering of Congo, especially women. Ashley is one of the few celebrities who has traveled to Congo, which is not a fashionable cause. In fact, many Americans are unaware of the international war that has killed 5.4 million people since 1996 – making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.

Ashley’s diary of her time in the region is one of the most moving witness to the devastation of the region that I have read.

But Ashley found a little respite from her grueling journey at Lola, where she turned up without an announcement or entourage, and met Keza.

Keza is an adult male bonobo who lived for 15 years in a biomedical laboratory in Kinshasa. He lived his whole life behind bars, never climbing a tree or building a nest. During the two wars, he and three other bonobos were often starving – to the point they ate cobwebs. Claudine tried for 10 years to rescue them, and finally, in 2004, they were brought to Lola.

When they first arrived, they wouldn’t come out of the night buildings because they were terrified of grass, which they had never seen before.

Here is the video of their transfer.

Keza, like anyone who has been imprisoned for 15 years, has a few problems. He is unpredictable and occasionally aggressive towards humans. I’ve tried for years to play with him, but he has never shown much interested in me (no matter how many bananas I bribe him with). The only person I’ve really seen him connect with is Claudine. He makes this funny face for her, where he pushes out his lips, like this:


Then I got this note from Ashley,

‘He kept soliciting, so we played and had the best time. He would run and roll, and then sit, waiting for me to take my turn. I’d have a go, and he would be so elated.  And, he kept wanting to kiss, and running to the door. I nearly climbed the fence!!!!!!  We had such a great time, and he did not seem to want me to go, as evidenced by getting a hold of my pants and not letting go for 3/4 of an hour.’


I was so happy Keza found someone to connect with. Unlike most of the other bonobos, who are somebody’s favourite, everyone’s a little wary of Keza, because he’s unpredictable.

When bonobos are raised by people, they have this need to engage with them, which is why if you walk around Lola, 60 bonobos will follow you. But when bonobos are raised and abused by people, they become conflicted. They still want to interact, but sometimes they snap.  I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think playing and engaging with Ashley meant a lot to Keza, especially since it’s so rare.

So thank you, Ashley, for making Keza happy for an afternoon. Come back and visit soon!

4 thoughts on “Ashley Judd loves bonobos – or one in particular…

  • Gail Robicheau

    I Love Love Love Ashley Judd and now I also love Keza. Thank you both for sharing this beautiful & uplifting story.

    : )

  • DanaCrompton

    The story of Keza, made me cry. I will never understand why animals are abused. Keza’s response to Ashley Judd was beautiful, he sensed in her a kindness, and also a need for some relief from the work she was in the Congo to do.

  • Barbara Fuller

    Not only is Ashley Judd a beautiful,gifted actress, she is truly good and kind. Her compassion for those less fortunate, people and animals, truly touches my heart. I too cried as I read the story of Keza, so many beautiful creatures in our world are being maimed and killed and in some cases such as parrots, being forced to the brink of extinction all in the name of commerce. Thank You Ashley,the good people at LOLA, and everyone else trying to make our world a better place for all who inhabit it.

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