Bonobos are one of the closest living relatives to humans, sharing DNA of more than 98%. These great apes have profound intelligence and are complex beings with emotional expression and sensitivity. Compared to the competitive and male-dominated culture of the chimpanzee, bonobo society is matriarchal, peaceful, and more egalitarian. Due to their compassionate and caring society, bonobos act as a strong symbol of cooperation and peace. Although similar in size to the more well-known chimp, the bonobo is often called the pygmy chimpanzee, as it has a more slender body. Like chimpanzees, the forearms of bonobos are longer than their legs, and they have mobile shoulder joints and long fingers.
The bonobo occurs only in Central Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in an area bordered by the Congo River in the north, the Kasai River in the south and west, and the Lualaba River in the east. Bonobos live in the middle of the Congo Basin, which is the world’s second largest rainforest.
Bonobos are social animals, traveling in mixed groups of males, females, and offspring. Bonobos typically feed and travel in groups numbering 3 to 6 individuals, although there may be up to 10. Throughout their range, these animals temporarily gather in bigger groups where food is plentiful, but divide into smaller groups when moving on. Male bonobos have a loose dominance hierarchy. Males remain in their natal group during their lifetime, whereas female bonobos leave at adolescence to join a different group. Older females gain social status relative to the rise in dominance of their male offspring. Bonobos spend almost all of their time up in trees, foraging for fruit or sleeping in nests they construct in the branches. During their rest periods, grooming is often carried out, occurring most frequently between a female and male, though also often between two females.
Bonobos consume fruits, nuts, shoots, stems, pith, leaves, roots, flowers and tubers. Mushrooms are occasionally eaten, and invertebrates such as termites, worms and grubs make up a small proportion of their diet. They may also eat flying squirrels, duiker and bats.
Bonobos are polygynandrous (promiscuous), when two or more males mating with two or more females. There is no specific mating season for bonobos. A single young is born after about 8 months’ gestation. Bonobo babies are relatively helpless when they are born. They depend on their mothers’ milk, clinging to their mothers for several months. Weaning takes place gradually, and is usually begun by the time the young is 4 years old. Throughout weaning, mothers typically have their offspring feeding by their side, which allows them to observe the process of feeding and food choice, instead of directly providing them with food. As adults, males typically stay with their natal social group, and so are in contact with their mother for the rest of her life. Female offspring leave their group during late adolescence, and do not stay in contact with their mothers during adulthood. Bonobos become mature at around 15 years of age.
Bonobos are threatened due to loss of habitat, as extensive areas of rainforest are cleared for the purposes of agriculture, timber extraction and development. Although traditionally not hunted due to local taboos, today this species is at risk from the growing bushmeat trade, as demand has recently increased, which is a threat to much of Africa's wildlife.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of bonobos is approximately 29,500 - 50,000 individuals. Their numbers are decreasing today, and bonobos are classified as endangered (EN) on the list of threatened species.
Bonobos play a role in seed dispersal of the fruits they consume in their diet.