Vanessa Woods

When we study the bonobo, we learn so much about ourselves.

One of the World’s Foremost Bonobo Researchers

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Vanessa Woods | One of the World’s Foremost Bonobo Researchers
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

An inspiring scientist, Vanessa Woods wonders what makes humans, well, human. To find out, she lived amongst the world’s most endangered ape, the peace-loving Bonobo, which shares 98.7% of our DNA. In riveting keynotes, she reveals what they can teach us about our notions of community, gender, conflict, and, most importantly, ourselves.

What makes us human? The answer may lie with our closest living relative, the bonobo. Vanessa Woods is a bright young scientist who has lived with bonobos for months on end, studying their behavior and “trying to answer this question: how much of us belongs to bonobos, and how much to us humans.” In a sad twist of fate, the bonobo, this animal that may potentially unlock a deep understanding about ourselves, is also the world’s most endangered ape, with fewer than 5,000 in the wild. Even worse, they live peacefully and harmoniously in one of the worst war zones in the world, the Congo.


A journalist and scientist, Woods works at Duke University in North Carolina and Lola ya Bonobo in the Congo. Viewing science and writing as closely linked, she has written for BBC Wildlife and New Scientist, made documentaries for Disney, and released a critically hailed memoir, It’s Every Monkey for Themselves. Her book,Bonobo Handshake, has garnered rave reviews from The New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly. She also writes a blog for Psychology Today. Her latest book The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think is an instant New York Times bestseller. She co-authored the book with her husband, Brian Hare, an associate professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University. Hare is also the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center.

Speech Topics

Bonobo Handshake What We Can Learn From Our Peaceful Cousins in the Congo
Bonobo apes share 98.7 percent of our DNA, and may hold the key to what makes humans, well, human. But unlike their cousins, the chimpanzees, not much is known about them; worse, they are the world's most endangered ape, living in the world’s most war-torn country. Against a backdrop of scientific and personal discovery, Vanessa Woods brings us deep into the jungles of the Congo to show us what makes bonobos tick. What can they teach us about community, about harmonious co-existence, and about ourselves? And what is the true meaning of “Bonobo Handshake”? With energy and charm, Woods shares enlightening anecdotes and groundbreaking research, making a powerful case for saving the bonobo, before it’s too late.