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Bonobo

Overview

  • Status
    Endangered
  • Population
    10,000 to 50,000
  • Scientific Name
    Pan paniscus
  • Height
    28 to 35 inches
  • Weight
    68 to 86 pounds

Bonobos and chimpanzees look very similar and both share 98.7% of their DNA with humans—making the two species our closest living relatives. Bonobos are usually a bit smaller, leaner and darker than chimpanzees. Their society is also different—bonobo groups tend to be more peaceful and are led by females. They also maintain relationships and settle conflicts through sex. However, bonobo life isn’t entirely violence free; if two groups of bonobos come together, they may engage in serious fighting.

Wild bonobos can only be found in forests south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes known as the pygmy chimpanzee, bonobos weren’t recognized as a separate species until 1929. As the last great ape to be scientifically described, much remains unknown about the bonobo—including the extent of its geographic range. Efforts to survey the species over the past two decades have been hampered by the remote nature of its habitat, the patchiness of their distribution and years of civil unrest within the DRC.

Civil unrest and increasing poverty in the area around the bonobos’ forests have contributed to bonobo poaching and deforestation. Though the size of the bonobo population is largely unknown, it has likely been declining for the last 30 years. Scientists believe that the decline will continue for the next 45 to 55 years due to the bonobo’s low reproductive rate and growing threats.

 

Why They Matter

  • Our peace-loving cousins are still a mystery

    Bonobos share 98.7% of their genetic code with humans, making them, along with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. As the last great ape to be scientifically discovered, much still remains unknown about the bonobo.

  • A unique social structure

    Bonobos may look much like chimpanzees, but their social structure is very different. These animals live in groups led by females and are more peaceful than the chimpanzee. In bonobo society, sexual relations play an important role in maintaining that peace—to build and maintain relationships and to resolve conflicts.

Threats

  • Population 10,000 to 50,000
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

CIVIL WARFARE

Civil unrest in the region around the bonobo’s home territory has led to many bonobo deaths, as gangs of poachers have been free to invade Salonga National Park, one of few protected areas for bonobos. In addition, unrest has made modern weaponry and ammunition more available, enabling hunting, and the military has at times sanctioned the hunting and killing of bonobos.

POACHING

Bonobo

Humans hunt bonobos to eat them, trade them as bushmeat, keep them as pets and for use in traditional medicine. Specific bonobo body parts are believed to enhance sexual vigor or strength. The number of bonobos lost to poaching each year is not known, but the number of bonobo charms available in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo suggests that poaching may be common.

HABITAT LOSS

Only part of the bonobo’s range lies in protected areas. A growing and moving human population, combined with slash-and-burn agriculture and commercial logging, leaves bonobos outside parks at risk of losing their homes.

“Bonobos are fascinating creatures and little understood. They have the only great ape society led by females, with a sophisticated social structure that encourages cooperation and peace.”

Dr. Richard Carroll Vice President, Africa Program

What WWF Is Doing

Bonobo Aiding Law Enforcement

SUPPORTING LAW ENFORCEMENT

To combat the rampant problem of poaching, WWF has provided training, improved transportation, and communication and other field equipment for antipoaching units in Salonga National Park and helps the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) to establish sustainable funding for antipoaching activities in the park.

MONITORING POPULATIONS

WWF has provided training, equipment and field supplies for the ICCN and non-governmental organizations conducting surveys of bonobo populations. After the first survey of Salonga National Park found fewer bonobos than expected and greater amounts of human disturbance, additional efforts were made to monitor and protect these animals.

PROTECTING HABITAT

 A survey of large mammals in the DRC’s Lac Télé-Lac Tumba Landscape revealed a previously unknown population of bonobos, a population that has the highest density and largest group size of the animals anywhere in their range. After this discovery, WWF helped to establish the Lac Tumba-Lediima Nature Reserve, which will help to protect this dwindling species.

Experts

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