Claudine Andre - guardian angel of bonobos
Claudine André, (born 6 November 1946 in La Hestre, Hainaut Province, Belgium), is a Belgian conservationist. She founded Lola ya bonobo, a bonobo sanctuary, in 1994 just south of Kinshasa, at Mont Ngafula, in the Lukaya Valley, Democratic Republic of Congo.
The aim of the sanctuary is to collect young bonobos, most having been orphaned due to the actions of poachers, and eventually reintroduce them into a forest reserve. During the same year, Claudine André started the Friends of Animals in the Congo, of which she is still president.
Claudine arrived in Congo as a child, with her father, who was a veterinary surgeon, and has lived there ever since. She ran an art boutique, sourcing and selling rare art works. She married Victor and has five children. When war disrupted daily life in Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the 1990s, Claudine worked as a volunteer in Kinshasa Zoo, because the animals had been neglected and were starving. Elsewhere in the country, people were finding traditional food production difficult, because of the war, and turned instead to bushmeat to feed themselves and their families. This in turn led to orphaned bonobo turning up for sale on the streets of Kinshasa - and it was from this situation that Claudine started Lola ya bonobo.
Nothing prepared Claudine for her role as a bonobo guardian. ‘My first school was the forest,’ she says. ‘I arrived in Congo with my father who was a veterinarian. He valued the chance for me to discover harmony with nature, the equilibrium between earth, humans, and animals.’
Claudine’s great loves were volcanoes, African art, and later, her husband Victor.
She ran a luxury boutique, searching for rare pieces of art, as well as looking after her five children. Later, she was dodging bullets during the civil war and looting that ravaged the country in the late 1990s.
In 1993, a baby bonobo changed Claudine’s life forever. Mikeno arrived at the Kinshasa zoo where Claudine was a volunteer, without much hope of surviving. Claudine was determined to save him. And was thrown into an adventure which has never stopped.
After Mikeno, others followed. And then more. . In 2002, Claudine founded the only bonobo sanctuary in the world just outside of Kinshasa. With a formidable team, 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. Years later, Claudine has been awarded the National Order of Merit by France and the Prince Laurent Prize of the Environment by Belgium. She frequently presents at conferences all over the world, raising awareness for bonobos and ensuring the protection of their future.
Lola ya Bonobo means ‘paradise for bonobos’ in Lingala, the main language of Kinshasa.
For more information on Lola ya Bonobo go to: www.lolayabonobo.org/
ARTICLES OF INTEREST:
Prince Laurent Prize (Belgium)
National Order of Merit (France)
Badham-Evans Award for Women's Commitment to Wildlife (Twycross Zoo, England)