THE ADMIRABLE APE
I chose to write about the Bonobo this week after I read an interesting article. The article stated that, like so many other endangered animals, the Bonobo’s habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate. This came as no surprise to me. It did strike me that since the Bonobo is the last great ape to be discovered, it would be a shame if it were the first to go. Habitat destruction has resulted in a precipitous drop in the Bonobo’s population in the past twenty years. Population estimates, at this time, are between twenty-nine thousand to fifty thousand individuals. These population numbers are only estimates. In researching for this post, I found that the numbers changed radically from as low as five thousand individuals to as many as one hundred thousand individuals. The only thing the articles agree on is that their habitat is indeed decreasing. Bonobos are currently confined to one area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a place called the Sankuru Reserve. Although a reserve has been established, the jungles are not safe from deforestation due to logging. The Bonobo populations are also dwindling due to human poverty. You see, the local humans once had taboos in place that prevented them from killing the Bonobo for food. Poverty has broken down those taboos and the once protected Bonobo is being hunted again.
Map courtesy of http://Mongabay.com
The Bonobo is a species of Chimpanzee. Together with the Chimpanzee, it is man’s closest relative sharing 98.5% of our DNA. In terms of size, the Bonobo is similar to the Chimpanzee, but it is more slender, appearing to have longer and thinner arms and legs. As with the Chimpanzee, the arms are longer than the legs.
The male is approximately thirty-two inches from head to tail, and the female is approximately twenty-seven inches. The male will weigh approximately ninety-seven pounds and the female about sixty-six pounds. Unlike the Chimpanzee, the Bonobo has a black face and the hair on their heads drops to the side, so that it appears to be parted in the middle.
Although similar in many ways to the Chimpanzee, the Bonobos are ‘culturally’ very different. Bonobos live in matriarchal societies and use sexual behavior to settle their differences as opposed to the patriarchal, aggressive, and loud behavior seen in Chimpanzees. This peaceful behavior has caused many to call them the ‘hippie chimp.’ I can understand that coming from a generation who spent a lot of time calling for humanity to ‘make love not war.’ They also use their behavior to create bonds between individuals in their large social groups, which may be as many as one hundred and fifty individuals.
There is no specific breeding season for Bonobos, and after an eight-month gestation period the female gives birth to a single offspring, which she will care for for approximately five years.
Photo credit: Michael Probst - AP
Bonobos live in the trees, spending most of their time there. They eat fruit and sleep in nests, which they construct with leaves and branches. Although fruit makes up the larger part of their diet, they will also eat other plants and small vertebrates, given the opportunity. On the ground, the Bonobo travels by knuckle walking. However, they are commonly seen walking upright as well.
As stated above, the Chimpanzee society is patriarchal while the Bonobo is matriarchal. I have found a fairly good video that puts forward a theory as to how this difference occurred. Scientists believe it might provide clues as to man’s aggressive behavior. Although the video’s sound and picture are slightly out of sync, it does deliver some very good information. I hope you’ll take a moment to view it.
I don’t usually bring up philosophical questions in my blog posts. However, I know that there have been many discussions about whether or not animals have feelings or exhibit emotions or empathy. It has always been my belief that they indeed do. I admit that I do not know where on the ladder of life the emotional spark exhibits itself. Does it show itself in something as small as a mouse or do we not see emotion or empathy in animals until we reach the upper branches of the evolutionary tree? I freely admit that I can’t answer this question. I can say with a great deal of certainty that cats, dogs, and other higher mammals do feel emotion and they do respond to our emotions. I have seen it, experienced it.
The famous primatologist and author, Frans de Waal, (The Bonobo and the Atheist, Bonobo The Forgotten Ape) says that we believe in God because we have a moral code written within us. Scientists would probably disagree and say it is the opposite; we are moral because we believe in God. I say consider both statements carefully. Whatever you believe, you have to agree that we can detect feelings and empathy in animal behavior, even moral behavior, and as far as we know, they have no God. Empathy is in their actions and even written on their faces. We need to keep that in mind when we are impacting environments, destroying habitats and causing possible extinction of other life forms on our Planet. They are NOT JUST animals. We must have the courage to recognize that we alone have the power to make the necessary changes to preserve environments for other animals, as well as protect the future of humanity.
The Bonobo was the last of the great apes to be discovered and many scientists fear that it will be the first to disappear. Let’s hope they’re wrong.
My sincere thanks to ARKive.org for their information and some of the pictures.
Jeanne E. Rogers, Author
The Sword of Demelza
An Award Winning Middle Grade Fantasy Where Endangered Animal Heroes Roam the Pages!
Citations and suggested sites for more information:
Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist, March 2013, W.W. Norton & Company
Frans de Waal, Bonobo The Forgotten Ape, October 1998, University of California Press