On 60 Minutes this week, Anderson Cooper travels to Africa and meets a remarkable group of Congolese women caring for baby bonobos at a sanctuary on the outskirts of Kinshasa known as Lola Ya Bonobo, which means "bonobo paradise" in the local Lingala language. Working one-on-one, they feed, bathe and nurture their charges.
"These are the most extraordinary women," explains producer Michael Gavshon. "They basically take care of these children, which is what they are, these little bonobos who come in as orphans, often traumatized, often very ill, often injured. And they literally embrace them and give them as much love and attention as they would their own children."
In the video above, Cooper and his team play with the young primates while the Congolese caregivers sing a song they wrote about the sanctuary and its founder. One cheeky young bonobo takes a special interest in Cooper, repeatedly climbing up his back, jumping off his head and tumbling into his lap. Cooper, an animal lover, doesn't seem to mind.
"These babies are as precocious, and as interesting, and as playful, and as silly, and as joyful, and ridiculous as any child could be," Gavshon tells Overtime editor Ann Silvio. "They carry on playing and playing and playing. They have boundless energy."
The 60 Minutes crew was happy to play along, especially since many on the team were dads missing their own little monkeys at home. "It was really a real treat for all of us to be in this faraway place, playing with these little children, these little bonobos, having fun with them," Gavshon says.
At times, however, the bonobos were too playful, mischievously tugging on the crew members' hair or arms, grabbing at their tripods and batteries. The crew learned to wave a GoPro camera on a stick to distract the bonobos and keep them from pressing their faces into the lenses of the bigger cameras.
"Did it actually interfere with the filming?" Silvio asks Gavshon.
"Yes," he says. "But it was a joy."
The sanctuary was created by Claudine André, who encountered her first bonobo 20 years ago as a volunteer at a zoo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was a tiny, injured baby ape she initially mistook for a chimpanzee. The zoo director warned her not to get too attached, since the fragile animals were known to die in captivity. André considered it a challenge, and nursed the bonobo back to health.
But there were others. With the bonobos' homeland torn by war, adult bonobos were being hunted and sold for bushmeat, their offspring orphaned. Determined to help save the species from extinction, André founded Lola Ya Bonobo, Congo's only sanctuary for bonobos, and hired local women to help.
This video was originally published on December 4, 2015, and produced by Lisa Orlando and Ann Silvio, and edited by Lisa Orlando.