- For other uses, see Bonobo (disambiguation).
The Bonobo (Pan paniscus), sometimes called the Pygmy Chimpanzee, is one of the two species comprising the genus Pan; both members of that genus are technically "chimpanzees", though the term is frequently used to refer only to the other member of the genus, Pan troglodytes, the Common Chimpanzee. To avoid confusion, this article will use "chimpanzee" only to refer to both members of the genus.
Bonobos were discovered in 1928, by American anatomist Harold Coolidge, represented by a skull in the Tervuren museum in Belgium that had been thought to be a juvenile chimpanzee's, though credit for the discovery went to the German Ernst Schwarz, who published the findings in 1929. They are distinguished by an upright gait, a matriarchal and egalitarian culture, and the prominent role of sexual intercourse in their society.
Bonobos diverged from Common Chimpanzees after the last Common Chimpanzee ancestor diverged from its last common ancestor with humans. Since no species other than ourselves have survived from the human line of that branching, Bonobos and Common Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, sharing approximately 98.4% of their DNA with us. Bonobos passed the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness in 1994. They communicate through primarily vocal means, in a language that has not yet been deciphered; however, we do understand some of their natural hand gestures, such as their invitation to play. Two Bonobos, Kanzi and Panbanisha have been taught a vocabulary of about 400 words which they can type using a special keyboard of lexigrams (geometric symbols), and can respond to spoken sentences. Some, such as philosopher Peter Singer, argue that these results qualify them for the same rights as humans.
Sexual intercourse plays a major role in Bonobo society, being used as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, and a favor traded by the females in exchange for food (see prostitution). Bonobos are the only non-human apes to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: tongue kissing, face-to-face vaginal intercourse, oral sex, genital rubbing between females, and "penis-fencing" between males. This happens within the immediate family as well as outside of it. Bonobos do not form permanent relationships with partners.
Bonobos live in a fusion-fission pattern: a tribe of about a hundred will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then come back together to sleep. Unlike Common Chimpanzees, who have been known to hunt monkeys, Bonobos are primarily herbivores, although they do eat insects and have been observed occasionally catching small mammals such as squirrels. Their primary food source is fruit.
Bonobos are found only in the Congo River basin (see Geography of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) of central Africa. They are an endangered species, due to both habitat loss and hunting for "bushmeat", the latter activity having waxed dramatically during the current civil war due to the presence of heavily armed militias even in remote "protected" areas such as Salonga National Park. Today, several thousand bonobos remain at most. This is part of a more general trend of ape extinction, which some denounce, based on their hominid status, as ape genocide.
- Frans De Waal, Frans Lanting, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, University of California Press (http://www.ucpress.edu/), May, 1997, hardcover, 210 pages, ISBN 0520205359; trade paperback, October, 1998, 224 pages, ISBN 0520216512
- Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind, John Wiley, September, 1994, hardcover, 299 pages, ISBN 0471585912; trade paperback, reissue, September, 1998, ISBN 047115959X