Best place to see bonobos

Hello,

A quick introduction —I’m a friend of Tomer’s — we met by a freak coincidence after I met his friend randomly on a train and he mentioned that I might know this guy Tomer who studies at the same school as me, showed me his Facebook page, and the very top post was by Jon Hall, about Sangha Lodge. I had just gotten back from being literally the only guest in Sangha Lodge so was totally shocked that this completely random guy’s Facebook page would be referencing it. Since then I’ve gotten to know Tomer and have realized that I will never be as hardcore as him or most on this page, but still share the love for awesome wildlife adventures. 

I have come up with the following five possible places to see bonobos in DRC and would like to go next summer, ideally around July-August. I have made initial contacts/done basic research on all of them, but there are not too many reports/pieces of information out there. Most important to me is that the price is reasonable and that the habituation level/odds of decent viewings/photos are high.

  1. Lomako: Trip originates and returns to Mbandaka, which is a 1 hour commercial flight from Kinshasa. Canoe fixed costs are $2500. Permits are $60 per person per day in the park. Canoe crew is $20 per day (all days). Park trackers are $5 per person per day in the park. Food is approximately $10 per day per person. Travel time is about 2 days into the park and 2 days return. Assuming 4 days in the park, we’d be looking at: group of 4 paying $1005 each, group of 2 paying $1670 each, and a solo (don’t make me do this!) paying $3000. This does not include the cost of the roundtrip domestic flight, which looks like it will be about $300.
  2. Lui Kotale: In Salonga NP, apparently it is quite expensive to access and normally requires a charter plane. For the larger sized plane, this is nearly $7000 one way. The smaller plane is $2600 one way, but can only take 200kg (which means I’d need to find someone very light to join!).
  3. Mbou Mon Tour: In same area as Lac Tumba, I’ve gotten a quote from tour operator GoCongo. The trip is depart Kinshasa and arrive on the 3rd day to the site then a few days with the bonobos, then 2 days return. With 2 days with the bonobos, this whole trip would cost 2500 euros per person, assuming a group of 4. Also includes 3 nights in Kinshasa total, all food during the bonobo trip, and all breakfast during the Kinshasa days. Includes boats, crew, etc. GoCongo is very reliable and trustworthy — I have met the owner and worked with him for some minor bookings.
  4. KokoloporiI had a long phone conversation with the guy who runs Bonobo.org, which runs the Kokolopori reserve, but it’s been difficult to get actual logistical information. It does seem like it will be quite expensive unless a large group was gathered.
  5. Lac Tumba: Run by the WWF, told me that they do have facilities for visitors and that the habituation levels are quite good, but did not yet get back to me with logistical details.

Summary

4 people at Lomako: $1300/person for 8 day trip including 4 days with bonobos, all food, roundtrip flights from Kinshasa to Mbandaka, 4 days roundtrip motorized canoe ride, all guides/permits

4 people at Mbou Mon Tour: $2700/person for 9 day trip including 3 nights in Kinshasa, all food except lunch/dinner in Kinshasa, 4 days roundtrip motorized canoe ride, 2 days with bonobos (would need to extend this), all guides/permits

4 people LuiKotale: Apparently the flight alone would be $14000 total, so this is probably cost prohibitive, but I think the plane may be able to take 12 people, so may be realistic with a larger group

As of now, the Lomako trip seems like it would be the best because it is very reasonably priced and would be a really cool adventure too, given the 4 day roundtrip canoe journey into/out of the place. I am not clear on the habituation level there, though. I think perhaps if I could get a group together, the Kokolopori guys would be more willing to give some details and logistical plans. The Lui Kotale trip seems like it will be too expensive, unless we got a very solid group and determined that the park was significantly better than the alternatives.

Three questions:

  1. Does anyone have any insights into the best time to see bonobos in general? Based on my research, July/August seem decent, but it’s quite hard to get non conflicting info on this.
  2. Is anyone interested in going to see them around July/August of next year? It would be ideal to get a group of 4, or at least 2, to save on costs.
  3. Advice/thoughts on the bonobo visiting options would be great!
25 Comments
  1. tomeslice 2 years ago

    Max!!
    LOL I’m not that hardcore. I think the main difference between us is that I’m also interested in smaller mammals, whereas you’re more into just the bigger ones.

    But there are many many others who are way more hard core than me. If mammal watching “hardcore-ness” is based on how far r u willing to go to find and identify smaller mammals, I’m only a 5-6. I get bored with bats and tiny rodents.

    Anyway, as I’m about to write you privately on Facebook, all of those options sound extremely expensive for me, so I’ll have to stay behind and read the trip reports in jealousy, and then see if there is a way to learn from your successes and mistakes, and arrange a similar trip that’s cheaper by about 40%. Lol

    • Profile photo of tomeslice
      tomeslice 2 years ago

      OK now that u updated the summary, Lomako doesn’t sound too bad. But I would be interested to know what other species are possible to see other than bonobos. I’m sure that area is extremely biodiverse.

      • Profile photo of vnsankar
        vnsankar 2 years ago

        Hi Tomer, I’ve done a fair bit of research into visiting some of these sites myself (am thinking about going in a couple years) so hopefully it’s ok if I give an idea of the wildlife in some of these places aside from Bonobos. These areas are fascinating from a mammal point of view, with a community of species totally different from that in areas on the opposite side of the Congo (ie: Dzanga Sangha, etc.).

        Lomako – you should also see Red-tailed Monkey (whitesidei), Wolf’s Mona Monkey, Black Mangabey, Angolan Colobus, Demidoff’s Galago, Thollon’s Red Colobus, and if you’re lucky Potto, De Brazza’s Monkey, and maybe Allen’s Swamp Monkey along the rivers. Mark Van Biers also saw African Palm Civet and Red River Hog here, so these are probably likely. I was told Giant Pangolin diggings are pretty common out there and Bay, Blue, Black-fronted, and Weyn’s Duikers should be possible as the poaching pressure isn’t too bad around the research station. Buffalo, Bongo, GF Hog, and Elephant will be very tough (Dzanga Sangha is the place to go for these – all these species are very rare on the left bank forests of the Congo river). This is also the best place on Earth to see Congo Peacock, one of the few birds in the world I would actually work hard to find. The place I’d probably be most keen to visit. I know Mark Van Biers saw the Bonobos here and Rod Cassidy told me they are habituated and reliable when I talked to him about it.

        Lui Kotale – same as Lomako, but you might also find Golden-bellied Mangabey with some luck; this is a rare species restricted to a region of swamp forests in SW inner Congo basin. This area has higher poaching pressure IIRC so less chances at duikers, Red River Hog, etc. Check out Lieven Devreese’s site for more info if you want – I think he camped out there for a while a few years ago. This is probably the remotest of the sites mentioned, really out in the middle of nowhere (worth mentioning that all Bonobo reserves are tough to get to though).

        Kokolopori – similar to Lomako regarding primates, but the endemic Dryas Monkey is also present (a big draw for me) and should be findable. Not sure about your chances at larger stuff as there are a bunch of villages in the area (this is a community protected area, not a national park/reserve). The easiest place to see Bonobos in the world, they are very common in some forest areas where they are habituated not far from villages. Agree that access would likely be difficult as these places are very remote.

        Don’t know anything about Mbou Mon or Lac Tumba, will let the original poster answer for those. The areas will definitely be less pristine as the animals will be in remnant forest fragments. Other primates, duikers, etc. will likely be poached out in these places. Wildlife viewing in most parts of the Congo basin is very difficult – the poaching pressure is very, very high.

        Funny how mammal watchers seem to have some intrinsic homing signal directing them to Sangha Lodge… Guess where I was in July ;))

      • Profile photo of MC Author
        MC 2 years ago

        Sankar, This is really good info. I think Lomako or Kokolopori will be the top options.

  2. Profile photo of vdinets
    vdinets 2 years ago

    Can’t you cut the costs by taking a boat instead of flying? Should be fun, not to mention the safety record of DRC airlines.

    If you manage to bring a bunch of Sherman and pitfall traps and do a lot of spotlighting, your species list will probably be a lot longer. There is also a decent chance of catching something undescribed or at least not yet known from the area.

    BTW, you can see bonobos at Chutes de Lukia outside Kinshasa for something like $25 (including taxi and admission). It’s a fenced area, there is supplemental feeding, and the bonobos are reintroduced, but the forest is natural and it’s within the historic range. There’s also a lot of other stuff in that forest and another one nearby (within easy walking distance), called Lac Ma Vallee. Between these two small forests I got 11 species in as many hours, which is really good considering that they are totally isolated from other forest remnants. Being allowed inside the forest at Chutes de Lukia requires lengthy negotiations (you can usually still see bonobos through the fence at least a few times per day, but it’s not the same thing). The forest in Lac Ma Vallee is open to respectable-looking visitors. Avoid weekends 🙂

    • Profile photo of MC Author
      MC 2 years ago

      Thanks for the comments. Boat instead of flying I’m not sure because the fuel is very expensive, but if prices were similar I’d go the boat route cause it would definitely be a cool adventure on the Congo River.

  3. Martin Singfield 2 years ago

    Hi All,
    I’ve been trying to work out how to see bonobos in the wild for some time, but never managed to gather as much information as you have. My spirits were recently lifted by a TripAdvisor report on a visit to Lomako (“Best Place to See Bonobos in the Wild”), which prompted me to contact the reviewer, GoCongo and their UK agents Undiscovered Destinations. I’m awaiting a reply from both travel companies.

    All of 2016 is already allocated to other trips, so the earliest my wife and I could consider going is 2017. It would be great if we could stay in touch. I can be found at http://www.facebook.com/martin.singfield.7

    Yours,

    Martin
    London, UK

    • Profile photo of MC Author
      MC 2 years ago

      Awesome link to that Tripadvisor review! I believe that GoCongo now operates the trip to Mbou Mon Tour instead of to Lomako. The information I got from Lomako was directly from the AWF. Although the trip looks absolutely awesome and solidifies Lomako as probably the best overall choice, I don’t completely trust the “best place to see bonobos in the wild” claim.

  4. Gerald Broddelez 2 years ago

    Hi Max, I am very interested in seeing Bonobo’s etc in the wild and Congo has been on my wishlist forever! If you are still planning a trip in the summer of 2016 or 17 and look for a travel compagnion pls let me know. Friendly greetings, Gerald.Broddelez@scarlet.be

  5. Richard Webb 2 years ago

    Max i would also be very iinterested in Lomako in 2017 depending on dates.

  6. Bob 2 years ago

    Hi, I also would like to go in 2017, all booked for 2016

  7. Susan 1 year ago

    in meantime did you do this trip? would you share your experience? would be available to go Oct 2016

    • Profile photo of tomeslice
      tomeslice 1 year ago

      Hi Susan,

      Neither Max nor I have gone yet… I don’t know if any of the others went before us, but I also don’t think this trip will happen before Oct. 2017. At least not for me, anyway… 🙂

      Tomer

      • Martin Singfield 1 year ago

        BirdQuest are running a trip to Lomako-yokokala in September 2017 (the best place to see bonobos in the wild.) Although originally billed as a birding trip, it will also concentrate on bonobos. It’s a long trip (12 full days in the reserve) and quite expensive (but there’s no way around that given where they go). You benefit from a UK based company and European tour leader, which takes away the hassle of dealing directly with a Congolese company. Steppes Travel are also running a trip to Lomako-yokokala this September, which is nearly as expensive, but only spends 2 days in the reserve.

  8. Aniket 8 months ago

    Hi Max

    Im very interested in this trip as have never made it to the Congo basin and would love to visit Lomako. Have you made it out there yet? Im half thinking of maybe doing a longer trip to cover more great ape species, similar to Martin. I can be contacted through my website, http://www.focusnature.co.uk.
    Cheers, Aniket
    Bristol UK

    • Author
      Max 8 months ago

      Hello,

      I have still not made it there. I’m thinking about re-starting the efforts to get a group/plan together soon and trying to plan it for some time in 2018 (maybe June?).

      • Aniket 8 months ago

        Ok sure, June 2018 is clear for me at the moment. The UK summer is a time of year when my work can busy but I can be flexible. Please keep me in the loop! 🙂

  9. Bob 7 months ago

    Would be interested in 2018.

  10. Author
    Max 7 months ago

    I am probably able to go in either February/March or early June of 2018

    Any preferences/objections?

  11. bob 7 months ago

    Either dates fine, cost would be the final factor.

  12. Author
    Max 7 months ago

    Apparently a Birdquest group is going to Lomako in September. This trip is for 20 days and costs $12,000, with nearly 2 weeks in Lomako itself. I suggest that we wait to make decisions until this trip ends and reports are available.

    http://www.birdquest-tours.com/Congo-peacock-birding-tours/2017

    If it does go well and if the price quotes I posted in the original post are still approximately the same, I think that Lomako would be the best option. A group of up to 8 would be possible and even with 4 it would only be about $1,300 per person including everything except international flights and possibly some extra food/tips. This assumes 4 days in the park. Each additional day would be about $100 more per person.

    According to my emails with them, they said all seasons are good, but Feb-Apr and Jul-Oct are ideal due to “abundance of foods”.

    Within that range, I am most likely only able to go in late Feb or early Mar, and could also probably go in October of 2017, but that would probably be too late of notice if we also wanted to evaluate how the Birdquest trip goes. I could also go in June of 2018.

    • Profile photo of Jon Hall
      Jon Hall 7 months ago

      Thanks Max. 2017 is out for me but June 2018 should work well, though I’d prefer a bit more time in the park than 4 days

      • Aniket 7 months ago

        Thanks for the update Max. The best months for me out of the above mentioned will probably be Feb-March 2018. I can theoretically go any time, but these months are when my work is quiet, UK weather is bad and flights are cheap, so would be my preferred time! 🙂
        Cheers, Aniket

      • Author
        Max 7 months ago

        That sounds good to me

  13. Author
    Max 7 months ago

    Also here is a climate page for a city that is fairly close to Lomako:

    https://en.climate-data.org/location/4598/

    Aug-Nov are the rainiest
    Dec-Feb least

    But all months are fairly rainy, so I don’t think this should be a big factor

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