What Is the Bonobo?

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  • Written By: Benjamin Arie
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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The bonobo is a great ape that is related to the chimpanzee. Bonobos are an endangered species, and are found naturally in only one place on Earth. This animal is sometimes known as a "pygmy chimpanzee" or "dwarf chimpanzee" in order to differentiate it from the common chimpanzee. Bonobos are usually more docile and less dominant that other types of apes.

These apes are known in the scientific community as "Pan paniscus." This species was first discovered in 1928 by German scientist Ernst Schwartz. Bonobos had been observed before Schwartz's research, but were thought to be identical to chimpanzees. Based on evidence gathered from bonobo skulls and other anatomical parts, researchers in the mid 20th century confirmed that bonobos and chimpanzees are in fact different species.

With the same same average body weight as a chimpanzee, the bonobo typically has a lower center of gravity. This allows the apes to stand and walk on two feet more easily than a chimp. Their head and ears are smaller than those of chimpanzees.

The diet of a bonobo typically consists of fruits, stems, and tree leaves. Insects and small animals are also part of the diet. Some have learned to capture fish and other aquatic creatures by cupping or slapping water in a river. The bonobo is arboreal, meaning that it that spends a lot of its time in trees.


Some scientists view these apes as the closest living prototype to modern humans. This is due to the many physical and sociological similarities between people and bonobos. Genetic testing has indicated that both chimpanzees and bonobos share 98 percent of their genetic identity with humans. Bonobo vocal and hand communication methods are familiar to humans, and captive bonobos have demonstrated the ability to learn human words and concepts.

Wild bonobos are found only in a small region located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This animal is considered to be an endangered species, and precise population statistics are not known. Many experts believe that deforestation and human actions in the Congo area have caused them to scatter.

Several conservation efforts have been conducted to protect bonobos from extinction. Protected areas have been established within the Congo. Frequent civil war in this region, however, has severely limited the effectiveness of these protective actions. Alternative conservation plans, such as establishing a bonobo reserve in a more stable part of Africa, are ongoing.


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