Magazine

No ‘Hippie Ape’: Bonobos Are Often Aggressive, Study Finds

In the early 1900s, primatologists noticed a group of apes in central Africa with a distinctly slender build; they called them “pygmy chimpanzees.” But as the years passed, it became clear that those animals, now known as bonobos, were profoundly different from chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee societies are dominated by males that kill other males, raid the territory of neighboring troops and defend their own ground with border patrols. Male chimpanzees also attack females to coerce them into mating, and sometimes even kill infants. Among bonobos, in contrast, females are dominant. Males do not go on patrols, form alliances or kill other bonobos. And bonobos usually resolve their disputes with sex — lots of it.

Bonobos became famous for showing that nature didn’t always have to be red in tooth and claw. “Bonobos are an icon for peace and love, the world’s ‘hippie chimps,’” Sally Coxe, a conservationist, said in 2006.

But these sweeping claims were not based on much data. Because bonobos live in remote, swampy rainforests, it has been much more difficult to observe them in the wild than chimpanzees. More recent research has shown that bonobos live a more aggressive life than their reputation would suggest.

In a study based on thousands of hours of observations in the wild published on Friday, for example, researchers found that male bonobos commit acts of aggression nearly three times as often as male chimpanzees do.

“There is no ‘hippie ape,’” said Maud Mouginot, a biological anthropologist at Boston University who led the analysis.

Related Articles

Back to top button