Dominique was one of the founders of Friends of Bonobos in 2003 and has been its President ever since. She spent seven years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she met Claudine Andre and fell in love with bonobos. She has served on the board of Congolese Amis des Bonobos du Congo since the early 2000s and was instrumental in helping Claudine André establish the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary and Ekolo ya Bonobo reserve. Dominique has worked tirelessly, for the past 15 years, to raise funds from foundations and governments. When she is not helping bonobos in her hours off, she has worked for the past 20 years in emergency response for Catholic Relief Services, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. She currently lives in Cairo and oversees programming in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan and the response to the Syrian crisis. Dominique is French but is married to a Minnesotan and did her graduate studies at the University of Southern California and Stanford.
Claudine grew up in Congo and has lived there her entire life. In 2002, Claudine founded Lola ya Bonobo just outside of Kinshasa which is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The sanctuary represents the first and only sanctuary in the world dedicated to protecting bonobos. Claudine and her staff have become the world’s experts in the rescue and rehabilitation of bonobos orphaned by the bushmeat trade. She now has over 70 rescued bonobos for which Lola ya Bonobo provide lifetime care. In 2009 Claudine conducted the first successful release of bonobos back into the wild. Over a dozen bonobos from Lola ya Bonobo now live freely again. They are thriving together in group in Ekolo ya Bonobo a preserve three times the size of Manhattan that Claudine has worked tirelessly to create and protect. Together with Dominique Morel Claudine helped found the US NGO that helps support her efforts for Bonobos. She remains Vice President of the Board of Directors.
Claudine’s reach extends beyond her sanctuary to the rest of Congo, tirelessly working to educate the Congolese of the preciousness of the endangered bonobo, and the danger and cruelty of eating bushmeat. Here education efforts reach over 50,000 children, governmental officials, and civil servants each year that visit Lola ya Bonobo. She is largely responsible for raising the status of bonobos in Congo from being totally unknown to one of the most beloved animals in the minds of the Congolese. To reach an international audience Claudine has published books for children and adults about bonobos, documentaries and a major feature length film called “Beni: back to the wild”. She also frequently presents at conferences all over the world, raising awareness for bonobos and ensuring the protection of their future.
Claudine has received numerous awards for her efforts to protect bonobos including the National Order of Merit by France and the Prince Laurent Prize of the Environment by Belgium. These are the highest civilian awards given by each of these countries. She is always inspiring others with her love of bonobos but also her compassion for people – especially the thousands of Congolese children she reaches each year.
After retiring early from university administration, Mary began her “second” career in wildlife conservation. Initially, she wanted to work on behalf of wolves and bears, but then she met the bonobos and gorillas at the Columbus Zoo. She found her passion – the apes! She is a member of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Board of Trustees, serves as vice-chair of the Conservation and Collection Management Committee, and chaired the Conservation Policy Committee. She also chairs the Zoo’s docent conservation committee. Mary established the Sulatalu Fund for Great Apes and supported the 2000 meeting of ape sanctuaries that led to the formation of PASA. About that same time she co-founded the Zoo’s conservation lecture series, “First Hand from the Field.” In addition, she is a founding member of Friends of Bonobos. She worked in MBA program management at both Case Western Reserve University and The Ohio State University. Mary developed and implemented cultivation and marketing plans leading to increased number of corporate recruiters and co-founded the National MBA Consortium at Chicago and founded the National MBA Placement Directors’ Group. Mary got her MBA from the University of Michigan. She did her undergraduate work at Mills College in Oakland, California.
Norm helped found the US NGO that supports Lola ya Bonobo. He has been a longtime supporter of Claudine Andre and bonobos more generally. Norm was a California State University Fullerton-Part time faculty member for 16 years, and serves as the Chair of the Orangutan Conservancy. He is one of the founders of PASA, and is President of Southern California Primate Research Forum and the Great Ape Program Coordinator for the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group. Norm is currently on the Board of Directors for PASA, Bonobo Conservation International (BCI), is consultant on primates for CBSG & VP of the Hermosa Historical Society. He has published a number of articles on primate conservation. He received an award for being an Outstanding Part-time Faculty Member at CA State-Fullerton for 2001-2002. Norm studied at the University of Southern California, California State University – Fullerton, and University College of London.
Becky is a 30-year veteran of the fields of wildlife conservation and education. She is the field conservation manager for the Columbus Zoo where she oversees the Zoo’s conservation grants program. The program awards more than $1 million annually to projects based in 30 countries. As a board member Becky has been able to advise and advocate for Lola ya Bonobo and its conservation programs. Becky also on the PASA board, serves on the steering committee for the D.C.-based Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (HWCC), and the Ohio Bird Conservation Initiative (OBCI). She is a founder of the Zoos and Aquariums Committing to Conservation conference (ZACC) and a member of the steering committee for this biennial meeting which brings together zoo professionals and field conservationists to strengthen zoo support for wildlife conservation around the globe. Rebecca began working with wildlife rescue organizations in the late 1980s when she met the founders of ARCAS – a group of dedicated Guatemalans who were determined to address the illegal wildlife trade in their country by building a rescue center to rehabilitate confiscated wild animals. Knowing the important connection between wildlife law enforcement and high quality rescue centers, Rebecca is dedicated to supporting the efforts of sanctuaries around the globe to stop the cruel and destructive illegal trade in wild animals.
During her 30 years as a science and wildlife educator, Karen has taught for the National Zoo, the Audubon Society, the Alexandria City School System and various nature preserves. She has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for humans and wildlife in need. In her capacity as a board member of Friends of Bonobos and as the Outreach Educator for the Hominoid Psychology Group at Duke University, Karen has educated several hundreds of Americans about bonobos via classroom lessons and by film. She arranged for Claudine Andre to speak at the U.S. debut of the movie “Beny, Back to the Wild” at the French Embassy and also when it was featured as part of the environmental film festival at the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. To raise great awareness of bonobos in the U.S., Karen arranged for Claudine to be interviewed by the Washington Post and the “The Story” on National Public Radio. She has hosted several events in North Carolina that have raised 10s of thousands of dollars in support of Lola ya Bonobo. She had the pleasure of visiting Lola when writing her masters thesis for Duke University about the heroic work of African conservationists such as Claudine Andre. Karen also has a B.A. in economics from the University of Virginia and currently tutors students at the Carolina Friends School in Durham, N.C.
Brian is associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University in North Carolina and a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Brian has been studying the bonobos at Lola ya Bonobo since 2005. Together with colleagues he has published over two dozen papers on the bonobos living at Lola ya Bonobo. Brian also acts as the coordinator of research for Lola ya Bonobo and since 2006 has helped facilitate research at Lola ya Bonobo that has led to over 50 scientific publications. Brian received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, founded the Hominoid Psychology Research Group while at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and subsequently founded the Duke Canine Cognition Center when arriving at Duke University. In 2004 the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation named him a recipient of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, Germany’s most prestigious award for scientists under age 40. In 2007 Smithsonian magazine named him one of the top 37 U.S. scientists under 36.
Vanessa is a New York Times Bestselling author, researcher and journalist. She is the author of the New York Times Bestseller The Genius of Dogs (Dutton 2013), and Bonobo Handshake (Gotham 2010), which won the Thomas Lowell Award for non fiction. Vanessa first visited Lola ya Bonobo in 2005 and subsequently has worked to promote bonobos, Lola ya Bonobo and the work of Claudine Andre in the popular press. Both her popular books feature Lola ya Bonobo and Claudine Andre. Her books have been published in 12 languages. Vanessa has also written hundreds of popular science articles which often feature bonobos. These include articles for The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, National Geographic, New Scientist and BBC Wildlife. Currently a Research Scientist at Duke University, since 2005, Vanessa is interested in learning what bonobos can tell us about becoming a more peaceful species.
Ashley met Claudine Andre in the U.S. and was so inspired she decided to travel to Lola ya Bonobo and meet the bonobos in person. She fell in love and has been fighting to protect them ever since. Her background as a licensed clinical social worker focusing on the foster care system and international adoption fits well with Lola’s mission to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned bonobos. Ashley has a long history of volunteer service. For more than 10 years, Ashley has been an active, avid volunteer for Heifer International and is now an at large director for Heifer International’s board of directors. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. Ashley graduated with a B.A. in psychology from Emory University and earned a Master’s Degree of Social Work from San Diego State University.
As a resident of San Diego, Debbie Sandler has had a long lover affair with bonobos. She has volunteered at the San Diego Zoo for years and has spent countless hours observing the zoo’s rare collection of bonobos. She had long dreamed of working to protect bonobos in the wild and began volunteering to help raise funds and attention for Lola ya Bonobo through special events and ongoing speaking engagements throughout the community. In addition, she has run extremely successful speaking tours for our founder Claudine Andre in Southern California and was able to find a film company interested in distributing across the U.S. market the English version of Claudine Andre’s feature length movie about her work with Bonobos. One of her dreams has long been to travel to Lola ya Bonobo – which she did in 2012 and again in 2015. Debbie received her undergraduate degree in anthropology from University of California, San Diego.
*The US board is for Friends of Bonobos, the US 501(c)3 that distributes grants and donations collected in the US to Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in Congo. Around 99% of funds go directly to Lola ya Bonobo from Friends of Bonobos since the US 501(c)3 is volunteer run.