photos by Aaron Johnson

Did you know that our beloved San Diego Zoo is one of only seven in the nation that houses bonobos? There is rumored to be only as few as 10,000 of these apes left in the world. Of the great ape family, including gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans, bonobos are the rarest and least known.


Solana Beach resident Debbie Sandler has devoted her life to bonobos, ever since she spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, and had the opportunity to interact with them first-hand. She visited the Congo’s Lola Ya Bonobo, the only bonobo santuary in the world and it changed her profoundly. At the sanctuary, she noted that she was especially drawn to the orphans, as baby bonobos live with their mother for up to five years. If seperated or the mother dies, baby bonobos have been known to die of “broken hearts.” At the sanctuary, human “mamas” step in to rear the young apes until such a time that they can join the older bonobos housed there.

Debbie, who proudly has a degree in anthropology and primatology, recently gave a talk at the Solana Beach Library titled “What Are Bonobos and Why Are They Important to Us?”, bringing awareness to the current state of bonobos around the globe. “I am thrilled to share my experience in the Congo and information about this little known great ape whenever there is a speaking or teaching opportunity. Many times following an article or television interview, I receive invitations to talk about these guys,” said Debbie.

For more information on Lola Ya Bonobo, visit