Tag: vanessa woods

Guest Post: Review of Amazing Adventures of Ants by Mark Moffet

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 26, 2011 12:40 pm

Guest post by Vanessa Woods

It was in Uganda that I encountered one of Africa’s most dangerous predators. I was counting chimpanzees in the Ugandan jungle, when I felt a sharp pain on my forearm. I pushed up my shirtsleeve. Attached to my skin was a giant ant the size of my toenail. Its head was so big I could see the serrations on it pincers that had dug halfway into my skin.

I flicked it with my other hand. It didn’t move. I brushed it, harder. It just wiggled all six legs and bit more deeply. I started to panic. I grabbed the ant between two fingers and pulled as hard as I could. Its body came off in my hands and its head was still firmly embedded in my arm, blood pooling around its knifelike jaws.  As if on cue, a thousand kindred mandibles sunk themselves into my flesh. I looked down. I was covered in them.

And so I learnt one of Africa’s most valuable lessons: ignore ants at your peril. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Ape House: The Book Bonobos Deserve

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | October 1, 2010 9:25 am

This is a guest post by Vanessa Woods, author of  Bonobo Handshake published in May 2010. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of bonobos at at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in Congo.

51tgh5fPn2L._SS500_I had been spending a fair bit of time studying bonobos at a sanctuary in Congo, so somehow I missed Sara Gruen’s runaway bestseller Water For Elephants, which is now being made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison. But this year I was ready and anxiously awaiting the arrival of Ape House, Gruen’s new novel, and one of the few works of fiction ever written about bonobos.

Writing a novel about bonobos is like trying to write about unicorns – most people don’t know they exist. However, unlike unicorns, bonobos are very real. They are our closest living relatives, along with chimpanzees, and share 98.7% of our DNA. But while chimpanzees are male dominated and occasionally beat their females and kill each other, bonobos are female dominated and their society has relatively little violence. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Bonobo Handshake: A Review

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 24, 2010 8:49 am

I begin with a full disclosure: As many readers know, Vanessa Woods is one of my very best friends. I love spending time with her because she’s insightful, outrageous, brilliant, and funny. And I can sincerely say I love her new memoir, Bonobo Handshake for the very same reasons. But most of all, I’m recommending this book because it’s so important.

Vanessa Woods CoverAt the start of Bonobo Handshake, we’re introduced to Vanessa as she sets off rather haphazardly on an adventure to Africa with her new husband, Duke anthropologist Brian Hare. By the end, she–and we–are not the same. Woven in between is a beautiful and complex narrative about people and other primates that slowly unravels what’s really at stake.

There were times I laughed out loud reading about the challenges of working with a species that–yes–famously approaches sex as easily as humans would a handshake. But there is a lot more to bonobos than their sexual behavior. Just as Jane Goodall documented the unforgettable antics of chimpanzees like Flossie and David Greybeard, Vanessa brings us into the world of ‘Empress’ Mimi, mischievous and lovable Malou, and my favorite bonobo of all, sweet little Lodja. It’s easy to fall in love with all of them as you’re both charmed and heartbroken along the way.

That’s only one part of a very complex story. Bonobo Handshake also exposes a very tragic side of Congo. Throughout the book, Vanessa shares devastating personal accounts of war, murder, rape, and torture. She gives voice to people who are often forgotten and need desperately to be heard. You also realize how they are connected to all of us through our politics, as well as the limited resources that power our technologies. In other words, we are part of the story.

I could go on and on about why I feel this memoir is so powerful and how it finally brought Congo to life for me in a way that all of the detached TV news stories over the years could never do. Or about how I’m inspired by heroes like Claudine Andre, who sacrifice so much to make the world a better place. Or about how incredibly well Bonobo Handshake succeeds in covering such a heavy topic, while providing reasons for hope. And of course, about how much I admire Vanessa for her courage, independence, and compassion. I could do all of those things… but instead, I’ll keep it simple:

I love this book. Go read it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Just How Much Sex Are We Talking About?

By Chris Mooney | June 4, 2010 8:59 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is the last in a series of guest posts from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

So there is some doubt floating around like a bad smell, that bonobos don’t even have that much sex. For a species that only 25% of people know is a great ape, and those that do know them only really know about their great sex life, taking the sex away from bonobos is like taking the mojo from Austin Powers.

Don’t let anyone tell you bonobos have equal or less sex than chimpanzees. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Bonobo Cannibalism?

By Chris Mooney | June 3, 2010 7:28 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

Here is the latest from Martin Subeck – who I met a few years ago at Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in Congo. The first thing about Martin is he’s an excellent scientist working with Gottfried Hohmann, who is one of the best. The second thing is, that like Max the bonobo, Martin is really really ridiculously goodlooking.

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Anyway, I digress. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Are Bonobos Altruistic?

By Chris Mooney | June 2, 2010 9:05 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

In my new book Bonobo Handshake, I talk about a bonobo called Mimi who throws herself over the dead body of another bonobo.

Lipopo was a seven year old bonobo who was new to the group. Mimi wasn’t particularly fond of him, she just kindof ignored him most of the time. When Lipopo died, Mimi stood over the body and wouldn’t let the keepers take him.

The keepers turned up with long poles to take the body away, a scary sight for any bonobo – they are usually quite shy. But Mimi would not give up the body. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Are Only Humans Good Samaritans?

By Chris Mooney | June 1, 2010 7:04 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

The following is a modified excerpt from Bonobo Handshake.

In 1988, a crane operator called Joe Honner was digging out telegraph poles on Darrell Tree’s farm in South Australia. Joe’s three-year-old son was sitting with him in the cabin while Joe maneuvered the crane.

Suddenly, the crane swung into live telegraph wires. Over nineteen thousand volts of electricity shot through the broken wires into the crane, which, being made of metal, was a superb conductor. Joe jumped clear, but his son was stuck in the cabin. Joe rushed forward to get his son, but he was held back by the farmer, Darrell. The little boy was fine, Darrell said, as long as he didn’t move. The electricity wound around the crane, creating a perfect circuit, but the leather interior of the cabin was untouched. The boy was frightened and started to cry. As Darrell turned to get a rope to rescue him, Joe rushed forward. As soon as he touched the crane, he tapped into the circuit and electricity shot through his body, arcing him backward and rooting him to the spot.

Darrell charged Joe, pushing him clear. Both of them were knocked unconscious. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Women Against Violence – Be More Bonobo!

By Chris Mooney | May 31, 2010 8:16 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

In the US, 600 women are sexually assaulted every day. One woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds. Despite education campaigns and law enforcement, and penalties, violence continues to threaten women throughout America. What can we do to make women safe?

I believe bonobos may have the answer. Once I saw Tatango, an unusually aggressive bonobo male, run up to Mimi, the alpha female, and backhand her across the face. He hit her so hard he almost gave her whiplash. Within seconds, five females in the group ran to Mimi’s rescue. They chased Tatango around the night building until he fled into the forest. When he continued his aggressive outbursts, those five females beat him so badly, they damn near ripped off his testicles. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Are We Hardwired to Kill?

By Chris Mooney | May 28, 2010 8:37 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

We like to think that murderers are psychopaths, with some kind of abnormal psychology that would never appear in us, or someone we know. And yet most of us think we would kill in certain situations, like if we were at war, or someone was about to kill a person we loved.

How ‘natural’ is this instinct in us, and can we ever obliterate it completely?

In my new book, Bonobo Handshake, I talk about lethal aggression in one of our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees and humans have a lot in common when it comes to killing: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books

Why Bonobos Will Save the World

By Chris Mooney | May 27, 2010 9:21 am

Vanessa Woods CoverThis is a guest post from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

When I wake up this morning, someone might try to kill me. I live 10 minutes from a small town called Durham, NC, where according to the last statistics, 22 people were killed, 76 women were raped, and there were 682 cases of aggravated assault. When a chimpanzee wakes up in the morning, they probably have the same thought. In fact, if you’re a male chimpanzee, you’re more likely to be killed by another chimpanzee than anything else. If you’re a female chimpanzee, expect to be beaten by every adolescent male who is making his way up through the ranks.

People often ask me why humans are so intelligent, as in, what is it other apes lack that makes us so unique.

I’ll tell you this: I would swap every gadget I own – my car, my laptop, the potential to fly to the moon – if I could wake up as a bonobo. No bonobo has ever been seen to kill another bonobo. There is very little violence towards females. The infants get an idyllic childhood where they do nothing but hang out with their moms and get anything they want. There is plenty of food. Lots of sex.

And yet, according to one of our studies, 75% of people have no idea what a bonobo is. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books, Conservation
MORE ABOUT: bonobos, vanessa woods
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