March 6, 2007—A new population of bonobos, one of humankind's closest genetic relatives, has been discovered deep in a forest in Africa's Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Perhaps the largest known concentration of bonobos anywhere, the group may number as many as 3,000—a significant addition to a recent estimated total of 10,000.
Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, live only in the Congo River Basin and are notable for using sex for greetings, reconciliations, and favors for food.
The apparently thriving new population may owe its success to its location—partly within a private ranch—and to the local Bateke people
"We consider them human, our ancestors," a Bateke man said. "We don't eat them, and we don't kill them."
I absolutely love bonobos. They are closely related to chimpanzees (and us), but, in some ways, they are strikingly different from chimps. Whereas chimpanzee societies are male-dominated and prone to high levels of aggression, bonobo societies are female-dominated, very sexual (homosexual acts are, incidentally, not uncommon), and much less violent--though not completely free of violence. I'm not sure what, if any, implications this dichotomy in gender roles and levels of aggression might have outside of a non-human ape context, but the idea that knowledge of bonobo and chimp politics might be able to inform us about the nature of our human political and social concerns is very attractive to me.
That reminds me, I really do need to read Frans De Waal's Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes one of these days.