/beuh noh"boh/, n., pl. bonobos.

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Species (Pan paniscus) of great ape.

It was once considered a subspecies of the chimpanzee, which it closely resembles in size, appearance, and way of life. Its range, the lowland rainforests of central Congo (Kinshasa), is more restricted than that of the chimpanzee, and it has longer, more slender arms, a more slender body, and a less protruding face. Bonobos eat mainly fruits but also leaves, seeds, grass, and small animals. They form communities of 50–120 individuals. A striking feature of their social lives is that they engage in sexual activity with great frequency, often as a means of settling quarrels, and with little regard for gender or age. Populations are shrinking, largely because of hunting and habitat destruction, and bonobos are an endangered species.

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also called  pygmy chimpanzee 
  ape that was regarded as a subspecies of the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) until 1933, when it was first classified separately. The bonobo is found only in lowland rainforests (rainforest) along the south bank of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Closely resembling the chimpanzee in both physical appearance and mode of life, the bonobo is more slender, with longer limbs, a narrower chest, and a rounder head with a less-protruding face. Bonobos are not much smaller than chimpanzees—males weigh around 39 kg (86 pounds) and females about 31 kg, but both are the same height, standing 115 cm (3.8 feet) tall when erect.

      Bonobos feed mainly in trees and descend to the ground to move to other trees. They eat mostly fruits (which they often share with one another) and other vegetation, such as herbs and roots. In some places, food is washed in streams. The diet is supplemented by invertebrates such as caterpillars and earthworms. In rare instances, they have been observed eating bats, flying squirrels, and even young duikers (duiker) (small antelopes). Unlike chimpanzees, bonobos do not hunt monkeys but instead play with and groom them. Furthermore, the phenomena of infanticide, cannibalism, and lethal invasion seen among chimps have never been observed among the bonobo. Relationships between separate communities also differ—individuals often intermingle. Adult males do not intermingle but, unlike chimpanzees, are not hostile. The egalitarian and peaceful bonobo society might have evolved as a result of reduced competition due to the abundance of food in their habitats.

      Bonobos are active during the day and move on all fours by knuckle walking. They make beds from leafy branches, but, in the wild, tool use is mostly limited to leaf umbrellas and branch dragging during intimidation displays. They form communities usually numbering from 30 to more than 100 individuals occupying a home range area of 22–60 square km (8.5–23 square miles). Each community is in turn composed of “parties,” groups of 6–15 individuals that forage together but whose membership is continually changing. Bonobo females and their young form the core of most groups, and males tend to follow the lead of mature females. Females unite against adult males, and mothers help their adult sons to promote their dominance rank. Thus, although adult males are larger in size than adult females, the former cannot be said to dominate the latter. Males groom and share food least frequently with other males, whereas females groom and share food mostly with other females. Males and females, old and young, mate and use a variety of sexual behaviours to promote social bonding. Female bonobos are sexually active for more of the time than their chimpanzee counterparts; they bear offspring at roughly five-year intervals and resume copulating with males within a year of giving birth. Bonobos sometimes mate in a face-to-face position, which is rarely seen among chimpanzees.

      The number of bonobos in the wild is shrinking because of human destruction of forests and illegal hunting of bonobos for meat. The bonobo is an endangered species; at the end of the 20th century, the estimated population was fewer than 40,000. Bonobos are not often kept in captivity.

Toshisada Nishida

Additional Reading
Takayoshi Kano, The Last Ape: Pygmy Chimpanzee Behavior and Ecology (1992; originally published in Japanese, 1986), is the most extensive description of bonobos in their natural habitat. Frans de Waal, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (1997), compares the behaviour of captive and wild bonobos with that of other chimpanzees and humans. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (1994), describes the remarkable intellect of a bonobo living in a primate research laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Universalium. 2010.

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