The Bonobo (Pan paniscus, Dwarf chimpanzee, Pygmy chimpanzee)
The Bonobo is a species of primate that lives in the equatorial forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are considered one of the closest species to humans, with striking similarities in their social behavior.
However, this species is in danger of extinction due to the destruction of their natural habitat, hunting and illegal trafficking.
Bonobos are known for their unique social organization, characterized by strong female leadership and peaceful conflict resolution. Unlike chimpanzees, which have a male-dominated social organization, Bonobos have a matriarchal social structure, with females being the central pillar of the community. They are also known for their sexual behavior, which is often used to ease tension and strengthen social bonds.
Scientists have established that Bonobos are the closest primates to humans. Between two humans, the genotypes are 99.9% similar, while the resemblance between the human and the bonobo would be 98.7%. About 5.1% of the human genome is genetically close to the bonobo genome.
Bonobos share many characteristics with chimpanzees, their cousin species, but they also exhibit unique traits that set them apart from other great apes.
Here are some of the main features:
Physical Appearance: They have a physical appearance similar to chimpanzees, with black fur and long, slender arms and legs. However, Bonobos are generally slimmer and more slender than chimpanzees, with a smaller head and more prominent eyes.
Size: The male measures in a standing position about 1.19 m for a weight ranging from 37 to 61 kg; the female measures 1.11 m for a weight ranging from 27 to 38 kg.
Diet: Bonobos are omnivorous primates, feeding mainly on fruits, leaves and other vegetation, but they also occasionally eat small animals such as insects and small mammals.
Habitat: living exclusively in the equatorial forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, they move in the trees in search of food and social partners.
Lifespan: Bonobos have an average lifespan of 40 to 50 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is less well known.
Intelligence of bonobos
An American psychologist taught the use of 348 keyboard symbols to a 26-year-old male bonobo.
The symbols referred to familiar objects (yogurt, key, belly, ball…), favorite activities (chasing, tickling…) and even some concepts considered quite abstract (the present, good and evil…).
The psychologist claims he was able to understand up to 3,000 words in spoken English, in addition to the vocabulary on his keyboard. She adds that he can express himself vocally and respond appropriately to commands such as “put the soap in the water” or “carry this object”.
Bonobo reproduction is similar to that of other primates. Females reach sexual maturity around 8 or 9 years old, while males reach sexual maturity around 13 or 14 years old.
The bonobo has menstrual cycles, which last about 36 days. During the fertile period, the female can mate with several males.
Matings can occur in a variety of positions, including face-to-face and back-to-back. Females usually give birth to only one young at a time, after a gestation period of about 8 months. Mothers carry their young on their bellies for several months, feeding them breast milk. The little bonobos are very dependent on their mother for their survival, but the other members of the group can also help to take care of them.
The bonobo is a social and cooperative animal. Reproduction is an important part of their social life. Sexual relations are often used to strengthen social bonds, reduce tensions and resolve conflicts within the group. This special attitude towards sexuality is considered one of the unique characteristics of bonobos compared to other primates.
How do Bonobos communicate with each other?
They are known for their complex and sophisticated communication. They use a variety of visual, vocal and tactile signals to communicate with each other.
Here are some examples of communication modes used by bonobos:
Facial expressions: Bonobos can use facial expressions to express emotions such as joy, fear or anger. They may also use looks, smiles, or frowns to communicate with each other.
Vocalizations: Bonobos can make a wide variety of different sounds to communicate, including screams, moans, growls, and howls. Each sound has a different meaning and can be used to convey specific information to other party members.
Gestures: Bonobos can use gestures to communicate, such as pointing or waving their hands. They may also use more complex movements to indicate directions or to ask for help.
Physical contact: Bonobos are also known for their strong physical contact. They may touch, caress, hug, and shake hands to communicate affection or support.
Using these different modes of communication, bonobos are able to convey complex information about their emotional state, location, intentions and needs to other members of their group.
How to observe Bonobos?
Observing Bonobos in their natural habitat can be a fascinating experience, but it is important to do so responsibly and respectfully for the survival of the species. Here are a few tips:
Respect the distance: It is important to keep a respectful distance from the Bonobos to avoid disturbing their natural behavior. The recommended minimum distance is around 10 meters, although this may vary depending on the situation and the viewing area.
Be Quiet: Bonobos are noise sensitive and can be easily disturbed by loud voices or sudden noises. It is therefore important to remain silent during the observation.
Avoid feeding them as this can disrupt their natural diet. Also, Bonobos can become aggressive if they think you have food and you don’t give it to them.
Use binoculars or a camera to observe them from a distance without disturbing them. It is important not to use flash to take pictures, as this can disturb the Bonobos and their environment.
Bonobos are active during the day, so it’s usually easier to observe them during daylight hours. The best observation times are often in the morning, when the bonobos wake up.
Threats to Bonobos
They face many threats that endanger their existence. Deforestation, poaching and illegal trafficking for the sale of bushmeat or to be sold as pets are destructive practices for the species. The situation is aggravated by the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has made it difficult to put in place effective protection measures for the Bonobos.
Actions for the conservation of Bonobos
Several organizations are committed to their protection. Sanctuaries have been created to accommodate orphaned or injured animals, to allow them to reintroduce themselves into their natural environment once they are able to survive on their own. Conservation efforts also include reforestation projects and raising awareness among local communities of the value of Bonobos and their habitat.
The Importance of Bonobo Conservation
The conservation of Bonobos is essential for the preservation of biodiversity and ecological balance in their natural habitat. As close to human primates, Bonobos are also important for scientific research, especially regarding the evolution of human society and social behavior. Finally, the conservation of Bonobos is also important for the preservation of the culture and traditions of the indigenous peoples who have lived in harmony with these primates for generations.
Tracking Bonobos on Congo cruises
During safari cruises on the Congo River organized by Ducret Expeditions, it is possible to spend a day in the Democratic Republic of Congo to track groups of regular Bonobos in connection with the Mbou-Mon-Tour pilot farm.
This possibility is open on certain dates. The boat will dock at dawn in Tshumbiri and passengers after an hour in Jeep will be able to follow three groups of Bonobos accustomed to the sites of Embirima, Lempu and Mpelu.