The Bonobo Essay, Research Paper
BONOBO Pan paniscus Description: The bonobo is a species of chimpanzee. It is the least known of the great apes because it lives only in aremote rainforest region on central Africa, and compared to other apes, it was only recently discovered. The bonobo isalso commonly referred to as the pygmy chimpanzee. Pygmy is a misnomer because the body weight of the bonobo is,on average, the same or slightly less than one of the subspecies of the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytessohweinfurthi. Compared to the common chimpanzee, the body weight of the bonobo is differently proportioned, andthe center of gravity is shifted lower making it possible for the bonobo to stand more erect and frequently walkbipedally. The bonobo has longer limbs (relative to trunk length) and their build is generally more slender and gracile.The body structure of the bonobo is an adaptation for climbing and living an arboreal lifestyle in the rainforest. Thebonobo’s head and ears are noticeably smaller, and there is less brow mass over the eyes than observed in thechimpanzee. The facial skin is darkly pigmented, and the hair is always black, usually parted in the middle of the headwith bushy sideburns sticking out on both sides of the face. The bonobo’s vocalizations are high pitched squeals.Because of similar morphological traits, some anthropologists consider the bonobo as the best living prototype for thecommon ancestor of humans and African apes. While this controversy remains unsettled, it has been establishedthrough molecular genetic analyses that the chimpanzee genus, Pan, is most closely related to humans and sharesapproximately 99% genetic identity. Thus it follows that the bonobos and chimpanzees have many human-likemorphological, physiological and behavioral traits. Range: Bonobos are geographically confined to a small region in Zaire, in the Zaire River Basin south of the ZaireRiver. Habitat: Unlike the common chimpanzee, which lives in a variety of habitats, the bonobo is found primarily in lowlandrainforests. Its lifestyle is more arboreal. Diet: Bonobos primarily feed on arboreal fruits, leaves and pith from stems. They are known to occasionally eat insectsand hunt small mammals. They have also been observed to slap water up from a stream and eat either invertebrates orfish. Social Organization: Certain aspects of bonobo social organization differs from the chimpanzee’s and other greatapes’. Bonobos are most frequently found in mixed age and sex groups with adults, juveniles and infants of both sexesfreely associating with each other. There is a less pronounced dominance hierarchy in the bonobo’s social structure,and, unique among great apes, a greater prevalence of strong female-female bonding (as opposed to male-malebonding observed in common chimps). Bonobos are highly social. They have developed a set of ritualized socio-sexualbehaviors which are specific to their species. Sexual behaviors have evolved to function as social forces, and sexualbehaviors are displayed by individuals of all ages. For example, copulations are common between male and femaleadults even when the female is not is estrus, there is a higher frequency of homosexual behavior among bonobos of allages, especially among adult females, and genital contact functions as social appeasement during times of grouptension. One special feature observed in bonobo society is the general lack of intraspecific aggression. Bonobos areless apt to engage in physical conflicts and intergroup confrontations. They are generally very peaceful. This isattributed to maintenance of their highly complex social repertoire. Bonobos mature at about seven to ten years incaptivity, and at about twelve to fourteen years in the wild. Females give birth to one infant approximately every four to
five years. Gestation lasts about eight months. While the infant is dependent on its mother for its first four years of life,its father and siblings are strongly associated familiar members. Conservation Status: The bonobo is listed as an endangered species in the wild by the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService, a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red Data Book and as an Appendix I species by CITES. There are no goodestimates of the number of bonobos remaining in the wild. Surveys are desperately needed. What is known is thatbonobos no longer occur in much of their historical range, and that the wild populations have been greatly reduced bydeforestation and human encroachment. The populations are discontinuous and widely scattered. Threats to Survival: The bonobo is threatened by forest destruction for forest products and agriculture. Bonobos arehunted for food and for sale to the pet trade. One of the major threats to this species is that its range lies entirely withinthe country of Zaire. Even historically the bonobo is considered to be a rare species relative to other apes because of itssmall range and habitat limitations. Thus the species is extremely vulnerable to political and social conflicts that arise inZaire. Zaire is among the poorest countries of the world. Most recent reports from field researchers indicate increasedpoaching of bonobos for food. This may be attributable to rampant inflation, widespread food shortages, and the influxof people fleeing political violence of the cities into the countryside. Zoo Programs – SSP: As of March, 1994, there 50 bonobos managed under the Bonobo SSP in North America. Amasterplan has been in effect since 1991 to coordinate a breeding and management program, with the goal ofpreserving genetic diversity and enhancing the social welfare of bonobos within this small captive population.Furthermore, the program seeks to link conservation efforts such as conservation of bonobos in Zaire. Over the pastfew years, the SSP has fostered working relationships with field researchers and conservationists. SSP institutions havehelped support field research and have brought the natural history and plight of the bonobo to the attention of zoovisitors through workshops, publications, presentations and educational material. Because people will not conservewhat they do not know and love, the SSP’s greatest role in bonobo conservation may become public education. Conservation: Bonobos have occurred in the Salonga National Park in Zaire; however, sightings are recent, and it isnot known if the population is resident. The only other preserves are research areas at Wamba (called the Luo RiverScientific Reserve) and Lomako, which have recently been proposed as protected research areas. Because of Zaire’spolitical and economic crises, extensive conservation efforts have been abandoned for the time being. Political unrestand diminishing governmental infrastructures preclude all but simple, local, grassroots projects. Field research has beenreduced to sporadic visitation to study sites, and many of the potential donors (corporate interests) have left Zaire. Theoverall effects of the political instability on the bonobo survival is difficult to ascertain. In spite of this, conservationistsremain committed to doing what they can. For example, The Action Plan for Bonobo Conservation (supported byIUCN Primate Specialist Group and the Bonobo SSP through grants from the Zoological Society of MilwaukeeCounty), a document which summarized the current status of our knowledge of the wild bonobo and outlinesconservation priorities, will be published in 1994. This document is intended to guide conservationists, researchers,government officials and donor agencies in developing conservation programs for the bonobo when opportunities arefinally present.