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Last updated date: 16th Apr 2024
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Bonobo Meaning

The bonobo, also known as the pygmy chimp and, less commonly, gracile chimp or the dwarf, is an endangered great ape and one of two species in the Pan genus and the second one being the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). Despite the fact that bonobos animal are not subspecies of the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), but instead separate species in their very own right, both species are often addressed to as chimpanzees or chimps. Panins are the taxonomic term for members of the chimp/bonobo subtribe Panina (which is mainly made up of the genus Pan).

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Broad legs, a dark face, pink lips, a tail-tuft from maturity, and separated long hair on the head differentiate the bonobo. The bonobo can be found in the Congo Basin, which covers 500,000 km2 (190,000 sq mi) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The omnivorous species can be found in both primary and secondary forests, like swamp forests that are periodically flooded. Due to the region's political uncertainty and bonobos' timidity, there has been very little field research performed on the species in its natural environment.

The bonobo meaning, together with the common chimp, is the nearest living relative to humans. Since the two species are poor swimmers, the establishment of the Congo River 1.5–2 million years ago may have resulted in the bonobo's speciation. Bonobos reside south of the river, separating them from the descendants of the popular chimpanzee, who live north of it. There is no exact population estimate, but it is estimated to be between 29,500 and 50,000 people. The IUCN Red List classifies the species as Endangered, and it is endangered by human population development, habitat loss, and migration, with commercial poaching being the most serious threat. Bonobos in captivity normally live for 40 years; their wild lifespan is uncertain, but this is almost possibly significantly shorter.


Besides having a body size comparable to that of a common chimpanzee, the bonobos animal was once recognized as the "pygmy chimpanzee." The term "pygmy" was coined in 1929 by German zoologist Ernst Schwarz, who identified the species based on the size of a formerly mislabeled bonobo cranium relative to chimp skulls.

In 1954, German biologist Heinz Heck and Austrian zoologist Eduard Paul Tratz suggested the word "bonobo" as a modern and distinct generic term for pygmy chimpanzees. The term is believed to come from a spelling mistake on a shipping crate from the Congo River town of Bolobo, which is close to where the first bonobo specimens were obtained in the 1920s.


In 1928, German anatomist Ernst Schwarz identified the bonobo as a distinct taxon, dependent on a skull throughout the Tervuren Museum in Belgium that had historically been known as a juvenile chimp (Pan troglodytes). Schwarz classified the bonobo like a subspecies of a chimp, Pan satyrus paniscus, and recorded his discoveries in 1929. Harold Coolidge, an American anatomist, raised it to genus rank in 1933. Tratz and Heck published the first detailed study of the behavioural variations amongst bonobos and chimps throughout the early 1950s. Robert Yerkes, an American psychologist and primatologist, became among the first to note significant behavioural variations.

In June 2012, the sequencing and assembly of the bonobo genome were published for the first time. After a previous study by the National Human Genome Research Institute concluded that the bonobo genome is approximately 0.4 percent divergent from the chimpanzee genome, the genetic code of a female bonobo from Leipzig Zoo was registered with the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (DDBJ/EMBL/GenBank) with the EMBL accession number AJFE01000000.

The genus Pan includes two animals that are the nearest close family (Homo sapiens) to humans: bonobos and chimps.

The exact date of the Pan–Homo last common ancestor is unknown, but DNA evidence indicates that ancestral Pan and Homo groups interbred until around 4 million years ago, post-divergence. DNA research demonstrates that the bonobo and typical chimpanzee species drifted roughly 890,000–860,000 years earlier, probably as a result of acidification and the expansion of savannas during the period. The Congo River currently separates these two species, which occurred long even before the divergence date, while ancestral Pan might just have spread through the river using now-disappearing corridors. In 2005, the first Pan fossils were discovered alongside early Homo fossils in Kenya's Middle Pleistocene (just after bonobo–chimp split).

Genetics and Genomics

Bonobo and human as well as other ape relationships could be calculated by evaluating their genes or entire genomes. Although the first bonobo genome was reported in 2012, it wasn't until 2021 that a high-quality reference genome was accessible. Depending on the above, the average nucleotide divergence between chimp and bonobo is 0.4210.086percent for autosomes and 0.3110.060percent for the X chromosome. 

While cDNA sequencing reported just 20,478 protein-coding and 36,880 noncoding bonobo genes, close to the number of genes coded in the human genome, the reference genome estimates 22,366 full-length protein-coding genes and 9,066 non-coding genes.


The bonobo is thought to be a more gracile chimp than the common chimp. Despite the fact that big male chimps can dwarf any bonobo in height and mass, the two species have a lot in common in terms of body size. Female bonobos are slightly smaller than male bonobos. Males have an average body mass of 45 kilogrammes, while females have an average body mass of 33 kilogrammes (73 lb). Bonobos are 70 to 83 cm long while standing on all fours (from nose to rump) (28 to 33 in). When standing erect, male bonobos measure 119 centimetres (3.90 feet), while females measure 111 centimetres (3.64 feet). The head of a bonobo is shorter than those of a chimpanzee, with far less pronounced brow ridges over the eyes.

It does have a black face featuring pink lips, large nostrils, tiny ears, and long hair which creates a parting down the centre of its head. Females have significantly larger prominent breasts than other female primates, but not as noticeable as human breasts. When compared to the typical chimp, the bonobo seems to have a thin neck, narrow shoulders,  slender upper body, and long legs.

Bonobos can be found both on land and in trees. The most common mode of ground locomotion is quadrupedal knuckle-walking. Bipedal walking was estimated to account for less than 1% of terrestrial locomotion in the wild, a statistic which has decreased with habituation, although there is a large range in captivity. In captivity, bipedal walking was being reported as a percentage of bipedal plus quadrupedal locomotion bouts ranging from 3.9 percent for random bouts to approximately 19 percent when enough food is given. The bonobo's physical features, as well as its stance, give it a more human-like appearance than that of the typical chimpanzee.

The bonobo, like humans, provides highly individualised facial features which enable one person to appear dramatically different from the other, a trait that has been evolved for visual facial recognition in social contact.

Bonobos are much more neotenized than standard chimps, according to multivariate analysis, which took into account characteristics like the bonobo's proportionately prolonged torso length.



Bonobos are worthy of kindness, altruism, empathy, compassion, tolerance, and sensitivity, according to primatologist Frans de Waal, who characterised "bonobo culture" as a "gynecocracy." Primatologists who investigated bonobos in the wild observed a broad range of behaviours, like aggressive behaviour and much more cyclic sexual behaviour identical to chimps, despite bonobos displaying more sexual behaviour in a broader range of relationships. Takeshi Furuichi's study of female bonding amongst wild bonobos emphasises female sexuality and reveals that female bonobos spend a lot more time in estrus than female chimps.

Most primatologists claim that de Waal's data only represent the actions of captive bonobos, implying which wild bonobos exhibit levels of aggression similar to chimps.

De Waal replied that the difference in temperament found in captivity amongst bonobos and chimps is important because it accounts for the effects of the climate. Even when held in similar environments, the two species behave very differently. Bonobos are also less aggressive than chimps, especially eastern chimps, according to a 2014 report. The authors stated that western chimps and bonobos' relative peace were mainly due to ecological factors. In the very same case, bonobos alert each other of danger less effectively than chimps.

Social Behaviour

Bonobos are unusual amongst nonhuman apes in that they lack male dominance and females have a fairly high social status, owing to the latter's capacity to establish long-lasting, strong alliances with one another. Various bonobo cultures have different hierarchies, ranging from gender-balanced to completely matriarchal. A coalition of high-ranking males and females, traditionally led by an ancient, seasoned matriarch who serves as the group's judgement and leader, sits at the top of the hierarchy. Female bonobos normally rise through the ranks based on their age instead of physical intimidation, and the highest-ranking females would shield immigrant females from male abuse.

Though bonobos are sometimes referred to as matriarchal, they do have alpha males. The alpha male does not rule over the top females, but he is also not inferior to them. His responsibilities include disciplining other males, resolving disputes, and assisting in the group's order and harmony. He defends the group from predators like leopards and pythons, as well as determining in which the group moves and feeds in certain situations. Males are respectful of infants and juveniles, and violent interactions between males and females are uncommon. A man's status is determined by his mother's status. The mother-son relationship is frequently deep and lasts a lifetime.

Whereas social hierarchies exist, and a son of a high-ranking female can outrank a lower-ranking female, rank is less important in this primate society than in some other primate societies. Bonobos are not a territorial species, so relationships amongst groups are always positive and affiliative. Bonobos would even exchange their food among strangers, even though they are unrelated. Paedomorphism (the retention of infantile physical traits and behaviours) is a feature of bonobos that reduces hostility and allows strangers to openly mingle and cooperate.

Sociosexual Behaviour

Sexual activity is commonly seen as a meeting, a way of establishing social ties, a form of conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconciliation in bonobo culture, according to some scientists. Bonobos have been the only non-human animals known to kiss each other on the lips. Just bonobos and humans participate in face-to-face genital sex on a regular basis, however, a couple of western gorillas was being captured in this role.

Individual partners don't really form lifelong monogamous sexual relationships with bonobos. With the potential exception of abstaining from sexual intercourse amongst mothers and respective adult sons, they don't really appear to discriminate in their sexual conduct based on sex or age. When bonobos find a new food source or feeding ground, their enthusiasm normally leads to communal sexual activity, which is thought to reduce stress and encourage peaceful feeding.


Males in similar common chimpanzee populations are aggressive to males from outside the group, according to findings in the wild. Males in groups 'patrol' for nearby males who may be travelling alone, and strike and kill such single males. This does not seem to be the conduct of male or female bonobos, who tend to prefer sexual interaction to aggressive confrontation with strangers. 

Bonobos are much more cooperative than chimps, but that does not mean they are not violent. Male bonobos seem to be half as aggressive as chimps in the wild, whereas female bonobos are much more aggressive as compared to female chimps. Physical violence is more than 100 times more common in bonobos and chimps than it is in humans. The Congo River separates the populations of bonobos and chimpanzees, with bonobos residing to the south and chimpanzees to the north. Bonobos are thought to be able to live a much more peaceful existence in part due to plenty of nutritious vegetation in the natural habitat, which further allows them to fly and forage in large groups.


The bonobo monkey is an omnivorous frugivore that eats 57 percent of its diet is fruit, with honey, leaves, meat, eggs, from small vertebrates including flying squirrels, anomalures, and duikers, and invertebrates rounding out its diet. Bonobos have been observed to eat lower-order primates in certain cases. Others deny the fact that bonobos have indeed been reported to practise cannibalism in captivity. In 2008, however, there was at most one recorded case of cannibalism in the wild involving a dead child. Two more cases of infant cannibalism were published in a 2016 paper, but it was unclear if infanticide was associated.

Bonobo’s Similarity to Humans

All great apes, including bonobos, will pass the mirror-recognition examination for self-awareness. They mainly communicate by vocalisations, but the meanings of their vocalisations are unknown at this time. Most people, on the other hand, are aware of their facial features and certain normal hand movements, including an invitation to play. Wild bonobos have quite a communication mechanism that incorporates a feature previously only recognised in humans: bonobos have been using the same call to convey different things in different contexts, and certain other bonobos must consider the context when deciding the meaning.

Kanzi and Panbanisha, two Great Ape Trust bonobos, are being educated to interact utilizing lexigrams (geometric symbols) on a keyboard and therefore can answer spoken phrases. Kanzi has a vocabulary of much more than 500 English words and can understand about 3,000 spoken English words. Kanzi is often recognized for learning by watching people attempt to teach his mother; Kanzi began performing the tasks which his mother was taught simply by watching, including those that his mother actually failed to understand. Some, like a philosopher and bioethicist Peter Singer, claim that such findings qualify them for "rights to survival and life," that humans legally grant to all people.

Researchers Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth, as well as Gary Garufi, conducted a review that culminated in this. Kanzi was tested to see whether he acquired the cognitive and biomechanical skills required to create and use stone tools. Kanzi could make flakes, but not in the similar way that humans do. Instead of holding the core in either hand and kneading it with the other, Kanzi threw the cobble against a rough surface or another cobble. Rather than knapping a crack in his palms, he could use a greater force to trigger one.

Ecological Role

The vast majority of plants in the Congo tropical rainforest depend on animals to replicate and spread their seeds. After elephants, bonobos seem to be the largest frugivorous animals in this area. Each bonobo can consume and spread nine tonnes of seeds from over 91 different lianas, grasses, trees, and shrubs over the course of its life. These seeds will fly for 24 hours in the bonobo digestive tract, where they will be transferred over several kilometres (mean 1.3 km; max: 4.5 km) and deposited intact in their faeces, far off from their parents. Such dispersed seeds are still viable and germinate faster than unpassed seeds.

Diplochory with dung-beetles (Scarabaeidae) increases post-dispersal survival for certain plants. Some plants, including Dialium, can also rely on bonobos to cause tegumentary dormancy, which prevents seeds from germinating. The first indicators of bonobo seed dispersal effectiveness have been discovered. The bonobo's actions will have an effect on the population dynamics of the plants whose seeds they disperse. The largest of these zoochorous plants need dispersal to recruit, and the trees' homogeneous spatial structure indicates a direct relationship towards the dispersal agent. In respect of seed dispersal services, several animals might replace bonobos, much like elephants can never substitute bonobos.

Conservation Status

Bonobos are classified as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List, with population figures varying from 29,500 to 50,000 individuals. Habitat depletion and bushmeat hunting are two major challenges to bonobo populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the latter occurrence increasing significantly through the first and second Congo wars because of the involvement of heavily armed militias in even remote "protected" areas like Salonga National Park. This seems to be part of a much larger extinction trend among apes.

Since the bonobos' environment is shared with humans, conservation efforts will ultimately depend on local and community participation. In the Cuvette Centrale, the bonobos' range, the concept of parks compared to people is a hot topic. The creation of national parks has sparked strong local and broad-based Congolese opposition, as indigenous communities have just been displaced from their forest communities. There seems to be no local presence in Salonga National Park, the first and only national park throughout the bonobo habitat, and surveys conducted since 2000 show that poachers and the booming bushmeat trade have decimated the African forest elephant, bonobo, as well as other animals.

Researchers and foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were forced out from the bonobo habitat during the 1990s wars. The Bonobo Conservation Initiative launched the Bonobo Peace Forest Project in 2002, with funding from Conservation International's Global Conservation Fund and collaboration from national institutions, local communities and NGOs.

The Peace Forest Project collaborates with local societies to create a network of community-based reserves that are run by indigenous and local citizens. This model, which has primarily been implemented via DRC organisations and local communities, has aided in the formation of agreements to conserve over 50,000 square miles (130,000 km2) of bonobo habitat.        

FAQs on Bonobo

Q1. What Do You Call a Baby Bonobo?

Ans. A baby bonobo is called a budir. 

Q2. What is a Bonobo's Normal Lifespan?

Ans. The average lifespan of bonobos is 40 years.

Q3. What Distinguishes Bonobos from Chimps (bonobo Vs Chimpanzee)?

Ans. Bonobo apes are elegant apes. Their slender build is due to their elongated legs, small head and narrow shoulders. The bonobo chimpanzee, on the other hand, is a powerful and robust creature. Bonobos are raised with a darker face and pink lips, whereas chimps develop a darker face as they mature.