National Geographic : 2013 Mar
Nobita and another male, Jiro. Kiku, Nobita’s elderly mother, charged over to support her son. Cowed by the two of them, Jiro retreated. He sulked in a nearby tree. It’s interesting, Saka- maki noted, that Nobita is the largest male in this group, and yet his mother helps him in a fight. Even a high-ranking adult male such as Nobita seems to hold his status partly on the merits of his mama. Forty minutes later, when the screeching be- gan again, Sakamaki drew my attention to the focus of excitement: an anomalure (a gliding ro- dent, like a flying squirrel), scrambling for its life on a tree trunk while several bonobos converged around it. As the bonobos came closer, the anom- alure launched itself into space and glided away. Then we noticed a second one, clinging secre- tively to the east side of another large bole while a bonobo named Jeudi sat clueless just 15 feet to the west. This anomalure, pink eared and pale eyed, held its place on the bark more patiently, frozen, not giving itself away. Within a moment, though, other bonobos spotted it, and the group closed in, shrieking with predatory menace. One bonobo climbed upward, struggling to find grips. The anomalure skittered 20 feet higher, ascend- ing as easily as a gecko on a wall. When it was entirely surrounded with bloodthirsty apes, the little rodent launched itself and sailed away through the limbs and undergrowth to safety. We never even saw where it hit the ground; neither did the bonobos. Wow, I thought. Nicely done. “Hunting behavior—it’s very rare,” said Saka- maki. “So you are very lucky.” Not yet noon on my first day at Wamba, and al- ready my notion of bonobos had been confounded with realities, contrasts, and complications. Bonobos have been confounding people ever since they first came to scientific attention. Back The bonobo, once called the pygmy chimpanzee, is a unique species of ape, native only to forests on the left bank of the Congo River. Recent research casts new light on their sexual and other behavior. Montana-based David Quammen writes frequently about evolution. Panama-based Christian Ziegler specializes in nature photography.