Wednesday, November 26, 2008


In an earlier post I shared what I had learned of chimpanzee behaviour because understanding other creatures can help us understand ourselves. There is another species, very closely related to chimps. In fact, until perhaps 30 years ago the Bonobo were just believed to be smaller chimps, as they look very similar. But, as scientists studied their behaviour and published the results they were met with disbelief.

When two Bonobo tribes meet the males would all line up opposite the visiting tribe's males and thrash branches in a display of power. Meanwhile the females would get together for a meal. When the males grew tired of thrashing, they would quit and socialize peacefully. Chimps, you may recall, organize raids and kill members of opposing tribes. Chimp society is dominated by the males and female chimps are often brutalized by the males. Chimps are known to practice infanticide. The dominant chimp males are determined that only they sire offspring.

Bonobo society is matriarchal. The females determine the distribution of food and males stick close to their mother as the male's status is determined by the mother's status in the tribe. There is no infanticide and promiscuity is the norm. Paternity could not be easily determined as Bonobo sex is as common as a human handshake, perhaps more so. It reminds me of the 1960s mantra, "Make love, not war."

The Bonobo have a gene that fosters reconciliation which is absent in chimps. Chimps hold a grudge against an individual for a very, very long time. Bonobos just let bygones be bygones.

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