The bonobo, capable of altruism, sensitivity and empathy

The bonobo, capable of altruism, sensitivity and empathy - Culture's Ways

The bonobo, formerly called the pygmy chimpanzee and less often, the dwarf or gracile chimpanzee, is an endangered great ape and one of the two species. Although the name “chimpanzee” is sometimes used to refer to both species together.

 

What is the bonobo?

The bonobo is distinguished by relatively long legs, pink lips, dark face and tail-tuft through adulthood, and parted long hair on its head. The bonobo is found in a 500,000 km2 (190,000 sq mi) area of the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa. The species is omnivorous and inhabits primary and secondary forests, including seasonally inundated swamp forests. Political instability in the region and the timidity of bonobos has meant there has been relatively little field work done observing the species in its natural habitat.

Primatologist Frans de Waal states bonobos are capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity, and described “bonobo society” as a “gynecocracy”. Primatologists who have studied bonobos in the wild have documented a wide range of behaviors, including aggressive behavior and more cyclic sexual behavior similar to chimpanzees, even though the fact remains that bonobos show more sexual behavior in a greater variety of relationships.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies bonobos as an endangered specie. Major threats to bonobo populations include habitat loss and hunting for bushmeat, the latter activity having increased dramatically during the first and second Congo wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the presence of heavily armed militias even in remote “protected” areas such as Salonga National Park. This is part of a more general trend of ape extinction.

The bonobo population is believed to have declined sharply in the last 30 years, though surveys have been hard to carry out in war-ravaged central Congo. Estimates range from 60,000 to fewer than 50,000 living, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Similarity to humans

Bonobos are capable of passing the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness, as are all great apes. 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. 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.

Image: CC BY 4.0
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Bonobo.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Sep. 2017. Web.

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