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Bonobo - Pigmy Chimpanzee Pan paniscus

The Scientific Name comes from the ancient Greek deity, Pan, a creature with a goat's body, a person's torso, and horns.

Pan was a very playful deity. Its current name, BONOBO, presumably originates from the distortion of the name of a village situated on the Congo River ... "Bolobo", where the first bonobo specimens came from. It has been established through molecular genetic analyses that the Bonobo genus, Pan, is the most closely related to humans; Bonobos share approximately 98.4 % of our genetic identity.

The morphological growth of Bonobos is similar to that of humans. For instance, young bonobos lose their milk teethes between 5 and 7 years, puberty is between 9 and 11 years and females have an ovarian cycle very similar to that of women.

What does it look like?

Bonobos seem in many ways to be more similar to humans than chimpanzees. In the proportions of the limbs, in the narrower trunk and in the smaller canine teeth the bonobo more closely resembles humans. When observed in captivity they also walk bipedally more often. These and other similarities are surprising given that bonobos are no more closely related to us than chimpanzees. They are covered with black hair instead of brown like the chimp.

There are two possible reasons for the similarities between humans and bonobos.

1. The bonobo is more similar to the common ancestor of humans, bonobos and chimpanzees. The bonobo has retained ancestral characteristics, some of which are shared by humans. The chimpanzee in the past 2.5 million years has evolved more distinct features.

2. It is the chimpanzee that is more similar to the common ancestor of humans, bonobos and chimpanzees. Convergent evolution caused similar features to develop in humans and bonobos because they were acting in a similar manner, most likely in terms of methods of obtaining food. The chimpanzee retained the ancestral form.

Where does it live?

They dwell in the tropical forests of the Congo Basin south of the Congo River. Bonobos are found in only one country: the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire), a resource-rich region now ravaged by civil war. Bonobos spend a lot of time high in the rainforest canopy. These acrobatic apes move through the trees swiftly and gracefully, maneuvering through the forest to forage on fruit and other foods. They also travel on the ground, often single file along their own sort of trail system. They tend to like swampy areas.

Bonobos have complex "mind maps" of the forest and coordinate travel through vocalizations and other forms of communication people do not yet understand. Bonobos live in groups of up to 100, breaking up into foraging groups by day and gathering to nest at night, in a fission-fusion modality. When bonobos gather in the trees to make their night nests, they fill the twilight with a symphony of soprano squeals. Their high-pitched vocalizations sound like a flock of exotic birds, compared to the more "gutteral" hoots of chimpanzees.

What does it eat?

Bonobos eat a variety of foods, including fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouts, vegetation, and mushrooms. They eat various parts of plants, including the leaves, flowers, bark, stems, pith, and roots. They also eat small mammals, insect larvae, earthworms, honey, eggs, and soil. Unlike chimpanzees who form hunting parties to capture monkeys, bonobos do not aggressively hunt mammals.

On rare occasions, they have been observed to capture duikers (small antelope) or flying squirrels.

Getting it on

They make a lot of love, and do so in every conceivable fashion. Beyond that, they are very loving too, showing care and compassion for each other in many ways. Sex in bonobo society transcends reproduction, as it does in humans. It serves as a way of bonding, exchanging energy and sharing pleasure.

Sex permeates the fabric of bonobo society, weaving through all aspects of daily life. It serves an important function in keeping the society together, maintaining peaceful, cooperative relations. Besides heterosexual contact, both male and female bonobos engage in same-sex encounters, and even group sex occurs. Female-female contact, or "GG-rubbing," is actually the most common.

Unlike other apes, bonobos frequently copulate face-to-face, looking into each other's eyes. When bonobo groups meet in the forest, they greet each other, bond sexually, and share food instead of fighting. Likewise, sexual activity, grooming, or sharing food eases almost any conflict between bonobos.

Bonobo males tend to be a bit more polite. They ask first, by displaying themselves in a persuasive but non-aggressive manner, offering food or making other propositions-and bonobo females have the right to refuse. The sexual aspect of bonobo behavior is best understood in the context of bonobo culture. Sex does not necessarily mean the same thing to a bonobo that it does to a human. However, it raises compelling questions about the roots of human nature, and is particularly striking in contrast to chimpanzee society. Scholars continue to study this unique phenomenon and debate its implications.

Facing extinction

The current war in the Congo is especially devastating to all forms of life in that rain forest, including the bonobos.

Protection

Bonobos currently have no national park, nothing to protect them from human hunting and encroachment except for the tropical diseases that limit human habitation in the area. The Bonobo Protection Fund works to secure some protection for them, including hiring off-duty guards from a nearby national park.

Sources

Bci@bonobo.org. The Bonobo Conservation Initiative. Washington DC. 2000.

De Waal, Frans and Lanting, Frans. Bonobo: The Fogotten Ape. University of California Press, p. 210. 1997.

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