National Geographic : 2013 Mar
116 national geographic • march 2013 three were monkeys. Bonobos preying on other primates: “This is a regular part of the bonobo diet,” Hohmann said. Sexiness, on the other hand, seemed to him less manifest than others, such as de Waal, had claimed. “I could show Frans some of the behav- iors that he would not think are possible in bono- bos,” Hohmann said. Infrequent sex, for instance. Yes, there’s a great diversity of sexual acts in the bonobo repertoire, but “a captive setting really amplifies all these behaviors. Bonobo behavior in the wild is different—must be different—be- cause bonobos are very busy making their living, searching for food.” Hohmann mentioned other points of conven- tional wisdom against which he and Fruth dis- sent, including the notion that bonobo society is held together as a genial sisterhood by female bonding (they consider mother-son bonding at least as important) and the notion that bonobos aren’t aggressive toward one another. Aggression may be rare and muted, he said, but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Consider how subtle hu- man aggression can be. Consider how a single violent act, or merely a mean one, can stick in a person’s memory for years. “I think this is just what applies to bonobo behavior,” he said. Life as a bonobo may be more stressful than it ap- pears. Evidence of hidden anxieties has begun emerging from a hormone study by one of his postdocs, Martin Surbeck. Analyzing fecal and urine samples, such as the ones gathered that morning by Lewis-Bale and Trautmann, Surbeck has found a surprising pattern: high levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in some bonobo males. Cortisol lev- els have been especially elevated among high- ranking males in the presence of estrous females. What does it imply? That a high-ranking bonobo male, walking a fine line between not enough machismo (which could cost him his status among males) and too much machismo (which could cost him his mating opportunities with imperious females), feels stressed by his com- plex situation. Bonobos eschew crude aggres- sion and violence, but they’re not carefree; they use sociosexual behaviors, diverse and relatively frequent, as a means of conflict management. “ This is what makes them different,” Hohmann said, “not that everything is peaceful.” The bonobo is classified as endangered, and though protected by Congolese law, it continues to suffer from all-too-familiar problems, espe- cially hunting for bush meat and habitat loss. Perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 bonobos remain in the wild, some of which are harbored within nation- al parks and reserves, such as Salonga National Park and the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve. These “protected” areas may or may not provide effective security for bonobos and other wild- life, depending upon realities on the ground— for instance, whether or not guards have been hired and trained, paid their salaries, and sup- plied with adequate weapons to face poachers. Congo suffered severely from its seven decades of Belgian colonialism, followed by three de- cades of Mobutu’s kleptocracy, followed by war; the context that frames all conservation efforts is institutional dysfunction. Among the hostages to this situation is the bonobo, a species native to no country in the world except Congo. If it doesn’t survive in the wild there, it will survive in the wild nowhere. Two people who believe that it can survive are John and Terese Hart, conservationists who came originally to the Congo Basin in the early 1970s. Nowadays the Harts work with a young Congolese staff and a wide range of Congolese partners on a large project known as the TL2 Conservation Landscape, a region that straddles three rivers in eastern Congo and holds not just bonobos but also forest elephants, okapis, and a peculiar, newly discovered monkey called the lesula. Bonobos are still being poached at TL2, John told me, their carcasses often transported life As A BonoBo may be more stressful than it appears.