Bonobo Fact File
The bonobo is a close relative of the chimpanzee. Previously they were believed to be a smaller chimpanzee but they are now recognized as their own species. They are only slightly reduced in size compared to the chimpanzee.
Compared to a chimpanzee the bonobo has a slimmer body with longer, more slender limbs.
Their body is covered with black fur. In the middle of their head the hair parts. The face, feet and hands are bare of hair and instead you can see skin which is also black. Their lips are red. Bonobos are less likely to go bald as an adult when compared to chimpanzees.
Bonobos are a great ape and as such they do not have a tail.
Their body measures between 70 and 83cm (28-33in) long and they will weigh up to 39kg (86lbs). Males are larger than females.
Bonobos are omnivorous. Their diet is highly varied. The primary food source is fruit. Plants, seeds, sprouts, leaves, flowers, roots, mushrooms, insects, honey and eggs are also eaten. On rare occasions small mammals are eaten and these are typically found opportunistically.
To obtain insects and other food they use tools. For example they reach sticks in to termite mounds to fish out these insects.
Bonobos play an important role in distributing seeds through the forest and this is integral in recovering forests.
One of their more unique methods of obtaining water is to sponge it out of tree trunks using moss. Much of their water comes from the fruits they eat though.
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Africa is the native home of the bonobo. Here they are found solely in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. They range across the Congo Basin in the centre of the country.
Their full geographic range is yet to be defined in its entirety owing to how recently they were discovered and the remote nature of their habitat along with civil unrest within their region.
The bonobo makes its home in tropical forests, swamp forests and forest-savanna mosaics. They show some tolerance for inhabiting secondary forests.
There is no defined breeding season though a small peak occurs from March to May. Reproduction can take place year round though. When a female is ready to mate her perineal tissue will swell. This process can start again as early as 1 year after the birth of an infant.
Females mate with all the males in their group and as such there is no indication of who the infants father is. Due to this the female assumes all responsibilities related to the infant. Adult males are attentive to infants though and no cases of infanticide have been recorded.
Their gestation will last 240 day following which a single infant is born.
At birth the bonobo infant is mostly helpless and they will spend most of their time being carried by their mother.
Weaning occurs at 4 years old and following this the female will breed again. During weaning the mother will have the infant sit next to her and observe her feeding. If she needs to force weaning she will stop the infant sleeping in her nest and make them create their own.
Males remain in their natal group for life. Females will leave the group and travel to another group at around 6 years old. They will become a permanent member of the group they are in when they first reproduce.
Females typically breed for the first time at 13 or 14 years old.
Bonobos live in a group which is led by the female. This group is a fission-fusion society. Large groups made up of as many as 80 individuals will split in to smaller groups to go foraging. These smaller foraging parties typically include 3-6 individuals.
Females are the boss of the troop and maintain bonds with their male infants. The rank of a male is tied to that of their mother.
In bonobo society they often use sexual relations as a method of easing social tensions and bonding. These can take place between any member of the group.
Grooming is also regularly undertaken. Often this is between a male and female though this can also take place between two females.
They are active during the day when they forage for food. At night they will make a nest out of sticks and leaves in which they can sleep. These are typically formed in trees but have been reported on the ground. On occasion bonobos will share their nest, a rare behavior among great apes.
Most of their travel is undertaken on all fours on the knuckles. They can also walk standing up on their back leg though this appears to be rare.
Bonobos communicate through a range of vocalizations and facial expressions.
In one study bonobos were seen to swallow leaves whole with an increased frequency at certain times of the year. It is believed that this helps to remove tapeworm fragments.
Studies of bonobos in zoos have shown they develop their own ‘cultures’ and behaviors. These are learned by new individuals that are introduced to the group but are not seen in other bonobo groups.
Predators and Threats
The only recorded predator of the bonobo is humans though it has been suggested that leopards and pythons may prey upon them.
Humans have had a large effect on populations of bonobos. During the civil war in their habitat their was an increase in hunting these animals for meat.
Further to this they face increasing deforestation of their tropical home.
Another threat is the spread of disease and these can be transferred back and forth between humans and bonobos.
Due to this civil unrest it was difficult for conservation efforts to occur.
They are sometimes referred to as the ‘pygmy chimpanzee.’ The bonobo was not elevated to being its own species till 1933.
Bonobos are among our closest living relatives and share 98.7% of our DNA.
In laboratory studies they have been taught to communicate using symbols on a board showing a high level of intelligence.
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3 onwards – Pierre Fidenci / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)
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