Did you know...Bonobos are humankind's closest relatives, along with chimpanzees, yet most people don't even know that bonobos exist!
The scientific name for the Bonobo is Pan paniscus. While no official publication on the bonobo genome is publicly available, an initial analysis by the National Human Genome Research Institute confirmed that the bonobo genome diverges about 0.4 % from the chimpanzee genome. In addition, the group around Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is actually sequencing the genome of a female bonobo from the Leipzig zoo. Initial genetic studies characterised the DNA of chimpanzees (Common Chimpanzee and Bonobo, collectively) as being as much as 98% (99.4 in one study) identical to that of Homo sapiens. Later studies showed that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. The most recent genetic analyses (published in 2006) of chimpanzee and human genetic similarity come from whole genome comparisons and have shown that the differences between the two species are more complex, both in extent and character, than the historical 98% figure suggests.
In the seminal Nature paper reporting on initial genome comparisons, researchers identified thirty-five million single-nucleotide changes, five million insertion or deletion events, and a number of chromosomal rearrangements which constituted the genetic differences between chimpanzees and humans, covering 98% of the same genes. While many of these analyses have been performed on the Common Chimpanzee rather than the Bonobo, the differences between the two chimpanzee species are unlikely to be substantial enough to affect the Pan-Homo comparative data significantly.
There still is controversy, however. Scientists such as Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee, and Morris Goodman of Wayne State University in Detroit argue that the Bonobo and Common Chimpanzee are so closely related to humans that their genus name also should be classified with the human genus Homo: Homo paniscus, Homo sylvestris, or Homo arboreus. An alternative philosophy suggests that the term Homo sapiens is the misnomer rather, and that humans should be reclassified as Pan sapiens, though this would violate the Rule of Priority as Homo was named before Pan (1758 for the former, 1816 for the latter). In either case, a name change of the genus would have implications on the taxonomy of other species closely related to humans, including Australopithecus. Ideas such as this are considered far outside the mainstream. The current line between Homo and non-Homo species is drawn about 2 million years ago, and chimpanzee and human ancestry converges only about 7 million years ago, nearly three times earlier.
Recent DNA evidence suggests the Bonobo and Common Chimpanzee species effectively separated from each other less than one million years ago. The chimpanzee line split from the last common ancestor shared with humans approximately six to seven million years ago. Because no species other than Homo sapiens has survived from the human line of that branching, both Pan species are the closest living relatives of humans and cladistically are equally close to humans.
The Bonobo is sometimes considered to be more gracile than the Common Chimpanzee, and females are somewhat smaller than males. Its head is smaller than that of the Common Chimpanzee with less prominent brow ridges above the eyes. It has a black face with pink lips, small ears, wide nostrils, and long hair on its head that forms a part. Females have slightly more prominent breasts, in contrast to the flat breasts of other female apes, although not so prominent as those of humans. The Bonobo also has a slim upper body, narrow shoulders, thin neck, and long legs when compared to the Common Chimpanzee. The Bonobo walks upright approximately 25% of the time during ground locomotion. Its quadrupedal ground locomotion generally is characterized by forelimb 'palm walking', similar to orangutans and in contrast to the predominant use of knuckles as characteristic of gorillas and the Common Chimpanzees. These physical characteristics and its posture give the Bonobo an appearance more closely resembling that of humans than that of the Common Chimpanzee (see: bipedal Bonobos). The Bonobo also has highly individuated facial features, as humans do, so that one individual may look significantly different from another, a characteristic adapted for visual facial recognition in social interaction.
This primate is mainly frugivorous, but supplements its diet with leaves and meat from small vertebrates such as flying squirrels and duikers, and invertebrates. In some instances, Bonobos have been shown to consume lower-order primates. Some claim that Bonobos have also been known to practice cannibalism in captivity, a claim disputed by others. However there is at least one confirmed report of cannibalism in the wild as reported by researchers Gottfried Hohmann and Andrew Fowler.
Psychological characteristicsThe neutrality of this section is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved. (August 2010)
Frans de Waal, one of the world's most respected and popular primatologists, states that the Bonobo is capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity. How peaceful Bonobos are has been disputed by some, but in general scientists agree with these assessments and the fact remains that thus far there are no confirmed observations of lethal aggression among Bonobos, either in the wild or in captivity.[neutrality is disputed]
Observations in the wild indicate that the males among the related Common Chimpanzee communities are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the community. Parties of males 'patrol' for the unfortunate neighbouring males who might be traveling alone, and attack those single males, often killing them. This does not appear to be the behavior of the Bonobo males or females in their own communities, where they seem to prefer sexual contact over violent confrontation with outsiders. In fact, the Japanese scientists who have spent the most time working with wild Bonobos describe the species as extraordinarily peaceful, and De Waal has documented how Bonobos may often resolve conflicts with sexual contact (hence the "make love - not war" characterization for the species). Conflict is still possible between rival groups of Bonobos however: the Congolese researcher Mola Ihomi has reported confrontations between bands of Bonobos which result in physical violence, sometimes resulting in serious injuries from bite wounds. Bonobos live in different areas from the more aggressive Common Chimpanzee. Neither of the species swims, their respective ranges being separated by the great Congo River with Bonobos living south of the river and Chimpanzees living north of the river. It has been hypothesized that Bonobos are able to live a more peaceful lifestyle in part because of an abundance of nutritious vegetation in their natural habitat, allowing them to travel and forage in large parties.
The popular image of the Bonobo as a peaceful ape does not always apply to captive populations. Accounts exist of Bonobos confined in zoos mutilating one another and engaging in bullying. These incidents may be due to the practice in zoos of separating mothers and sons, which is contrary to their social organization in the wild. Bonobo society is dominated by females, and severing the lifelong alliance between mothers and their male offspring may make them vulnerable to female aggression. De Waal has warned of the danger of romanticizing Bonobos: "All animals are competitive by nature and cooperative only under specific circumstances" as well as writing that "when first writing about their behavior, I spoke of 'sex for peace' precisely because bonobos had plenty of conflicts. There would obviously be no need for peacemaking if they lived in perfect harmony". The immature state of Bonobo research in the wild, compared to that of the Common Chimpanzee means that lethal aggression between Bonobos could still be discovered.
Hohmann and Surbeck published in 2008 that Bonobos sometimes do hunt monkey species. Having observed a group of Bonobos in Salonga National Park, they witnessed five incidents in five years in which Bonobos preyed on monkeys. Their research indicates it was deliberate hunting in which a group of Bonobos would coordinate their actions – contrary to their normal hunting behaviour which is quite solitary and less purposeful. On three occasions the hunt was successful and infant monkeys were captured. But of course hunting is related to feeding more than to aggression, and these observations cannot be used to attribute a dark side to the bonobo as some have done.[neutrality is disputed]
Most studies indicate that females have a higher social status in Bonobo society, though some field work suggests that Bonobo troops are led by an alpha male (though females in this scenario are not subordinate to all adult males as is the case with Chimpanzees). Aggressive encounters between males and females are rare, and males are tolerant of infants and juveniles. A male's status is derived from the status of his mother. The mother-son bond often stays strong and continues throughout life. While social hierarchies do exist, rank does not play so prominent a role as it does in other primate societies.
Bonobo party size tends to be variable since the groups exhibit a fission-fusion pattern. A community of approximately one hundred will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then come back together to sleep. They sleep in trees in nests that they construct.
Sexual social behavior
Sexual intercourse plays a major role in Bonobo society observed in captivity, being used as what some scientists perceive as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconciliation. Bonobos are the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: face-to-face genital sex, tongue kissing, and oral sex (although a pair of Western Gorillas have been photographed performing face to face genital sex).
Closeness to humans
Bonobos are capable of passing the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness. They communicate primarily through vocal means, although the meanings of their vocalizations are not currently known. However, most humans do understand their facial expressions and some of their natural hand gestures, such as their invitation to play. Two Bonobos at the Great Ape Trust, Kanzi and Panbanisha, have been taught how to communicate using a keyboard labeled with lexigrams (geometric symbols) and they can respond to spoken sentences. Kanzi's vocabulary consists of more than 500 English words and he has comprehension of around 3,000 spoken English words. Some, such as philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer, argue that these results qualify them for the "rights to survival and life", rights that humans theoretically accord to all persons.
There are instances in which non-human primates have been reported to have expressed joy. One study analyzed and recorded sounds made by human babies and Bonobos when they were tickled. It found although the Bonobo's laugh was a higher frequency, the laugh followed a similar spectrographic pattern to human babies.
You can learn more and support work done to save the 10,000 bonobos living in the wild here: The Bonobo Conservation Initiative
The following videos are from their site.