Bonobos are one of humankind’s closest living relatives, sharing more than 98% of our DNA.
Physically, they resemble chimpanzees, a close relative. In fact, earlier scientists thought the bonobo was just a smaller version of the common chimpanzee and so the term “pygmy chimpanzee” was used.
They are found in only one country: the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
They inhabit the heart of the Congo Basin, the second largest rainforest on earth. The bonobo habitat spans approximately 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles).
The average lifespan of bonobos is 40 years in captivity; their lifespan in the wild is unknown.
The adult male bonobo weighs between 34 to 60 kg (75 to 132), the female weighs an average of 30 kg (66 lb)
Head-body length (from the nose to the rump while on all fours) ranges from 70 to 83 cm (28 to 33 in).
Males can measure up to 1.2 m (4 ft) tall while standing and females up to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall.
The bonobo’s head is relatively 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 parting.
The bonobo also has a slim upper body, narrow shoulders, thin neck, and long legs when compared to the common chimpanzee.
Their bodies are covered by coarse, black hair, except for the face, fingers, toes, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet.
Both its thumbs and big toes are opposable, allowing a precise grip.
Bonobos are both terrestrial and arboreal.
Most ground locomotion is characterized by quadrupedal knuckle walking. Bipedal walking (on just two feet) has been recorded as less than 1% of terrestrial locomotion in the wild and up to nearly 19% in captivity when abundant food is provided.
Bonobos are very comfortable in trees, swinging hand to hand through the branches, climbing up tree trunks, and leaping from one tree to another.
Bonobos are omnivores. They 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, insects, earthworms, honey, eggs, and soil. Unlike chimpanzees who form hunting parties to capture monkeys, bonobos do not aggressively hunt mammals.
Bonobos are highly social animals.
Their communities are peace-loving and egalitarian. Bonobos are considered to have a matriarchal society, meaning that females have a higher social status than males and social interactions are
female-centered and female-dominated. Females have strong social bonds amongst themselves, but they do not exclude males.
Bonobo party size tends to vary because the groups exhibit a fission–fusion pattern. A community of approximately 100 will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then will come back together to sleep. They sleep in nests that they construct in trees.
Adult bonobos sometimes share a nest, which is a unique behavior among the great apes.
Bonobos communicate using a wide range of vocalizations and gestures. They are the most vocal of the great apes, using complicated patterns of vocalizations to communicate detailed information.
The communication system of wild bonobos includes a characteristic that was earlier only known in humans: bonobos use the same call to mean different things in different situations, and the other bonobos have to take the context into account when determining the meaning.
Breeding occurs throughout the year. Females reach sexual maturity at approximately 12 years of age. The gestation period is thought to be between 220 and 230 days. They normally give birth to a single young.
Infants are born virtually helpless and must be carried everywhere by their mothers for the first two years. Youngsters stay close to Mom for several years while they grow and learn how to be a part of bonobo society. The mother gives birth every five to six years, allowing her time to bond with each offspring.
Male offspring remain with the mother’s group for life, whereas females leave the maternal group for another at maturity.
Apart from their number 1 predator, humans – crocodiles and leopards are also a threat.
The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by habitat destruction and human population growth and movement, though commercial poaching is the most prominent threat.
There is no concrete data on population numbers, but the estimate is between 29,500 and 50,000 individuals.
Along with the common chimpanzee, the bonobo is the closest extant relative to humans. Because the two species are not proficient swimmers, the formation of the Congo River 1.5–2 million years ago possibly led to the speciation of the bonobo.
Bonobos were described as a subspecies of chimpanzee in 1929 but identified as a separate species in 1933. They still are the least understood of the great apes.
Some scientists believe that bonobos are the most intelligent of the primates (other than humans, of course!). Maybe that’s because they share many of our human behaviors, such as teaching their young social skills, using tools to get food, and working together for the good of the entire troop.
Bonobos are especially known for their ability to get along: unlike humans or chimpanzees, they have never been observed killing one of their own kind.
The name “bonobo” first appeared in 1954, when Eduard Paul Tratz and Heinz Heck proposed it as a new and separate generic term for pygmy chimpanzees. The name is thought to be a misspelling on a shipping crate from the town of Bolobo on the Congo River, which was associated with the collection of chimps in the 1920s. The term has also been reported as being a word for “ancestor” in an extinct Bantu language.