July 2010: A three-week journey by plane, bus, land cruiser, dug-out canoe and foot, with my sister Elizabeth, in search of bonobos, western lowland gorillas and forest elephants.

In the Republic of Congo we travelled north by bus to Ndoki Nouabale, a remote forest reserve where the borders with Cameroon and the Central African Republic converge at the Sangha River. In DRC we headed to the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary, a couple of hours' drive from Kinshasa, where rescued bonobos are prepared for re-introduction into the wild.

Along the way we had to navigate past corrupt police and AK-47-wielding soldiers at countless checkpoints and borders, venomous snakes and the mighty Congo River. They're not easy countries to travel in, but they are immensely rewarding. And Kinshasa is one of the most fun, vibrant cities I've ever visited.
Thoughtful bonobo at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, about two hours from the capital, Kinshasa.
Lola is the only bonobo sanctuary in the world - and bonobos only live in one stretch of forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Mother and baby in group three.

With a new friend.
More than 60 rescued bonobos are looked after at Lola.
Tembo, a 12-year-old bonobo at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is being prepared for re-introduction into the wild.
The group being prepared for reintroduction are still fed, but the food is left at different locations in the forest each day for them to find.
Bonobos doing what bonobos are famous for. If you're struggling to see what's going on, the first thing to realise is that there are two bonobos in this picture.
A baby bonobo born at Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary. Apart from a handful of animals born on site, the vast majority cared for at Lola are orphans, primarily as a result of the bushmeat trade.
Gladez, one of the long-term volunteers who cares for the bonobos.
Henriette, one of the mamans charged with looking after the youngest orphans, escorts the infants back to their beds.
Claudine, Lola's extraordinarily brave founder, with one of her orphans.

Back in Kinshasa, this woman shows just what is possible with a well-attuned sense of balance.
Market trader, Kinshasa.
The middle classes of Kinshasa congregate in the evenings outside the Palais du Peuple and pay street photographers to take pictures of their children. That evening the local snappers had some foreign competition...
Elizabeth on the canot rapide from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, the two closest capital cities on earth. The speedboat journey takes five minutes across the Congo River. The “formalities” on either side of the border take a couple of hours.
War damage, Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Kinshasa and Brazzaville are closer together than any other two capital cities in the world - separated only by the Congo River.
Taxi driver, Brazzaville.
Bus station, Brazzaville.
Kinshasa, as seen across the Congo River from Brazzaville.
Brazzaville's distinctive taxis, outside a bus station.
Motorised pirogue on the Sangha River, en route to Bomassa from Ouesso, in the far north of the Republic of Congo.
Pirogues, Bomassa. Bomassa is effectively basecamp for the researchers in Ndoki Nouabale.
The pirogue journey through the forest from Bomassa to Mbeli Bai.
The path to Mbeli Bai.
With Gabi, our tracker, on the route to Mbeli Bai.
Mbeli Bai, a huge clearing in the middle of the rainforest where elephants, bongo, sitatunga and gorillas congregate for the water, mud and mineral deposits. Sadly, we didn't see any gorillas at the Bai in the two days we spent there.
Forest elephant bathing, Mbeli Bai.
Fish eagle, Mbeli Bai.
Crushed viper that very nearly bit our tracker after propelling itself at speed at him out of a backpack, where it had been sleeping.
Wading through the Djeke River on the way to Mondika, Nouabale Ndoki.
Kingo, the dominant male silverback of the habituated group of western lowland gorillas at Mondika, deep in the Ndoki rainforest.
Kingo cooling off in the swamp.
One of Kingo's females.
Because gorillas share so much DNA with people, they are highly susceptible to human-borne diseases - a common cold could wipe out an entire group because they would have no immunity. Trackers, researchers and tourists wear facemasks to prevent the spread of disease.
Durrani, the man in charge of the beers at Mondika camp.
Durrani, Dodo and Marcellin (back row) at Mondika Camp. In the background you can see our accommodation - tents with simple roofs built over them to protect them from falling forest debris. Given some of the eight-legged horrors I encountered in the forest, I was relieved to be zipped into a sealed tent at night.
Wassi, one of our Ba'Aka pygmy guides. The Ba'Aka we met in Congo were all originally from the Central African Republic. By an incredible coincidence I was in CAR two years later (see my portfolio for photos) and I bumped into Wassi, who was visiting his family. 
Fidel, the chief of Bomassa village, with two of his three wives. The Republic of Congo is a Communist country, which is why Fidel is a common name.
Ba'Aka pygmies performing a traditional dance in Bomassa village. This character is a ghost.
These kids had been grinding fou fou - manioc flour. This is the spectacularly un-nutritious staple of the Congo.
Not-so-evil spirit.
The women of the village taking on the men in a tug of war. The women won - twice in a row.
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