The bonobo (Pan paniscus), until recently is usually called the pygmy chimpanzee and less often the dwarf or gracile chimpanzee. It is one of the two species of chimpanzees.

Physical characteristics

Its head is smaller than that of the Common Chimpanzee but has a higher forehead. It has a black face with pink lips, small ears, wide nostrils, and long hair on its head. Females have slightly prominent breasts in contrast to the flat breasts of other female apes, though not as prominent as those of humans. The bonobo also have slim upper bodies, narrow shoulders, thin necks, and long legs compared with the Common Chimpanzee. Bonobos walk upright about 25% of the time during ground locomotion. These characteristics, and their posture, give bonobos a more human-like appearance than that of Common Chimpanzees. Moreover, bonobos have highly individuated facial features, as humans do, so that one individual can look significantly different from another, adapted for visual recognition in social interaction.

Psychological characteristics

Recent observations in the wild have confirmed that the males among the common chimpanzee troops are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the troop. Murder parties are organized to “patrol” for the unfortunate males who might be living nearby in a solitary state. This does not appear to be the behavior of the bonobo males or females. They seem to prefer sexual contact with their group to violent confrontation with outsiders. The bonobo lives where the more aggressive common chimpanzee does not. Possibly the bonobo has given a wide berth to their more violent and stronger cousins. They do not swim and generally inhabit ranges on opposite sides of the great rivers. Bonobos are supposed to live a more peaceful lifestyle in part because of their habitat, which has more nutritional vegetation. This allows less hunting, less competition, and a social outlet of eating.

Bonobos, at least in captivity, are generally held to have superior intelligence to chimpanzees.

Other social behavior

Females are much smaller than males but can be considered to have a higher social status. Aggressive encounters between males and females are rare, and males are tolerant of infants and juveniles. The male’s status reflects the status of his mother. The son-mother bond often stays strong and continues throughout life. While social hierarchies do exist, rank does not play as prominent a role as it does in other primate societies.

Bonobos are active from dawn to dusk. A tribe of about a hundred will split into small groups during the day while looking for food, and then come back together to sleep. They sleep on trees in nests they construct. Bonobos are primarily frugivores. They do eat insects and have been observed occasionally catching small mammals such as squirrels.

Closeness to humanity

They communicate through primarily vocal means, although the meanings of their vocalizations are not currently known.


Around 10,000 bonobos are found only south of the Congo River and north of the Kasai River. They are found in the humid forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo of central Africa. They are an endangered species, due to both habitat loss and hunting for bush meat. Today, at most several thousand Bonobos remain. This is part of a more general trend of ape extinction.


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