By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

The best Valentine in my mailbox this morning was this simple picture from Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

We share so much DNA with these adorable bonobos, I cannot help but be moved every time I see their expressive, charming faces.

Bonobos ValentineIt’s a shame to think that these animals could become extinct because too much of their forest habitat has been lost, leaving a few isolated groups to cling to existence. There may be as few as 10,000 left in the wild, in the only country where they live, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The troops are isolated, have lost much of their habitat to logging and face death from hunters trying to feed their families. Extreme poverty followed years of civil war in the Congo, and today, cultural taboos on killing the bonobos are breaking down, according to BCI. The bonobos are easy targets. They’re peaceable by nature and structured in matriarchal societies.

Before it’s too late, we humans should pause to consider how we’re crowding out these animals, and so many other endangered species. The bonobos story is similar to so many others, such as the orangutans of Southeast Asia, which are fast losing their native palm forests and often face brutal treatment at the hands of those clearing the forests for palm plantations.

I care about all wildlife, but I admit I feel an extra pang when we’re talking about our first cousins on the evolution tree. If we can’t save them, what hope will wolves, prairie dogs and sharks have?

This Valentine’s Day, let’s spread the love. I’m not soliciting donations. Not everyone can afford that in these times, and the answers are complex, especially in the Congo where a human crisis also needs addressing.

But you can learn more and share the information. (Share this picture.) Bonobo Conservation also needs volunteers with certain skills.

At the Rainforest Action Network, you can find out how to reduce your consumption of non-sustainable palm oil, which would be one small step toward slowing the destruction of orangutan habitat. (And you’ll probably be healthier for it, because palm oil tends to be used as a binder and oil in packaged snacks and cookies.)

Another great place to start is at the Bonobo Conservation Initiative webpage, where you can hear recordings of the bonobos. Their chirps and calls are sweeter than chocolate. I can’t think of a better treat for Valentine’s Day.

Oh, how much DNA you ask? 98 percent.

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