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Conservation status: Endangered

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Pan
Species: P. paniscus
Pan paniscus
Schwarz, 1929
The Bonobo (Pan paniscus), until recently usually called the Pygmy Chimpanzee and less often the Dwarf or Gracile Chimpanzee, is one of the two species comprising the chimpanzee genus, Pan. The other species in genus Pan is Pan troglodytes, or the Common Chimpanzee. Both species are chimpanzees, though that term is now frequently used to refer only to the larger of the two species, Pan troglodytes. To avoid confusion, this article follows the growing trend to use "chimpanzee" only to refer to both members of the genus.The Bonobo was discovered in 1928, by American anatomist Harold Coolidge, represented by a skull in the Tervuren museum in Belgium that was thought to have belonged to a juvenile chimpanzee, though credit for the discovery went to the German Ernst Schwarz, who published the findings in 1929. The species is distinguished by an upright gait, a matriarchal and egalitarian culture, and the prominent role of copulation in their society.

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Physical characteristics
Psychological characteristics
Closeness to humanity
Strategies for financing protection from extinction

Name - Contents

One theory on the origin of the name "Bonobo" is that it is a misspelling of the name of the town of Bolobo on the Congo river. A more likely explanation is that it comes from the name for "Ancestor" in an ancient Bantu language.As noted above, the scientific name for the Bonobo is Pan paniscus. Since the Bonobo DNA is at least 95% equal to that of Homo sapiens, some scientists maintain that they (and the Common Chimpanzee) should be reclassified as members of the genus Homo -- Homo paniscus, Homo sylvestris, or Homo arboreus. An alternate philosophy suggests that the term Homo sapiens is actually the misnomer, and that humanity should be reclassified as Pan sapiens.

Physical characteristics - Contents

The Bonobo has a graceful body. Its head is smaller than those of the Common Chimpanzee but with a higher forehead. It has a black face with pink lips, small ears, wide nostrils, and long hair on its head. Females have slightly prominent breasts in contrast to the flat breasts of other female apes, though not as prominent as those of humans. The Bonobo also have slim upper bodies, narrow shoulders, thin necks, and long legs compared to the Common Chimpanzee. These characteristics, and their posture, give Bonobos a more human-like appearance than that of Common Chimpanzees.

Psychological characteristics - Contents

Professor Frans de Waal, one of the world's leading primatologists, avers that the Bonobo is often capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience and sensitivity.Recent observations in the wild have confirmed that the males among the Common Chimpanzee troops are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the troop. Murder parties are organized to "patrol" for the unfortunate males who might be living nearby in a solitary state. This does not appear to be the behaviour of the Bonobo males or females, which both seem to prefer to "make love" with their group rather than seek "war" with outsiders. The Bonobo lives where the more aggressive Common Chimp doesn't live. Possibly the Bonobo has given a wide berth to their "murderous" stronger cousins. Neither swim, and they generally inhabit ranges on opposite sides of the great rivers.

Social behaviour
Sexual intercourse plays a major role in Bonobo society, being used as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, and as favors traded by the females in exchange for food. Bonobos are the only non-human apes to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: face-to-face genital sex (most frequently female-female, then male-female and male-male), tongue kissing, and oral sex. This happens within the immediate family as well as outside of it. Bonobos do not form permanent relationships with individual partners.Bonobo reproductive rates are not any higher than that of the Common Chimpanzee. Female Bonobos carry and nurse their young for around five years and can give birth every five to six years. Females are much smaller than males but have a higher social status. Females maintain their social status by cooperating amongst themselves. No one male can dominate the group because the rest of the females band together to protect the social order. The male's status reflects the status of his mother, the son-mother bond stays strong and continues throughout life.Bonobos live in a fusion-fission pattern: a tribe of about a hundred will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then come back together to sleep. Unlike Common Chimpanzees, who have been known to hunt monkeys, Bonobos are primarily herbivores, although they do eat insects and have been observed occasionally catching small mammals such as squirrels. Their primary food source is fruit.

Habitat - Contents

Around 10,000 Bonobos are found only in the humid forests south of the Zaire River, in the Democratic Republic of Congo of central Africa. They are an endangered species, due to both habitat loss and hunting for bushmeat, the latter activity having waxed dramatically during the current civil war due to the presence of heavily armed militias even in remote "protected" areas such as Salonga National Park. Today, at most several thousand Bonobos remain. This is part of a more general trend of ape extinction.

Closeness to humanity - Contents

DNA evidence suggests that the Bonobo and Common Chimpanzee species have stayed apart for about 5 million years. The two species separated just 500,000 years after they diverged from the last common ancestor with humans. Since no species other than Homo sapiens has survived from the human line of that branching, the two chimpanzee species are the closest living relatives of humans, sharing approximately 97% of their DNA with humans (the original estimate was 98.5 percent). Bonobos passed the mirror-recognition test for self-awareness in 1994. They communicate through primarily vocal means, although the meanings of their vocalizations are not currently known; however, we do understand some of their natural hand gestures, such as their invitation to play. Two Bonobos, Kanzi and Panbanisha have been taught a vocabulary of about 400 words which they can type using a special keyboard of lexigrams (geometric symbols), and can respond to spoken sentences. Some, such as bioethicist Peter Singer, argue that these results qualify them for the "rights to survival and life" rights that humans theoretically accord to all persons. The genetic closeness of Bonobos, their relative rarity, and self-awareness certainly lend a lot of moral and scientific impetus to preserving them, protecting them from both abuse and extinction.

Strategies for financing protection from extinction - Contents

Starting in about 2004, various concerned parties have addressed the crisis plight of these cousins of humanity on several science and ecological websites. Organizations like the WWF and others are trying to focus attention on the extreme risk to the species. Some have suggested that a reserve be established in a less unstable part of Africa, or on an island in a place like Indonesia. Non-invasive medical research could be conducted on relocated free Bonobos with little risk or discomfort.
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