National Geographic : 1992 Mar
Chimpanzees With a Difference BONOBOS By EUGENE LINDEN Photographs by FRANS LANTING IN A BLUR, an agile bonobo scrambles toward invisi ble heights where his group feeds on fruiting trees. I sit waiting on this steam ing African morning in a clear ing of Zaire's Wamba forest for a better look at his kind. Fresh sugarcane lies scattered about, provided by Japanese primatol ogist Takayoshi Kano to bring the tree-dwelling apes to earth. Zaire's tropical forest is the only home of the bonobo (Panpanis cus), also called the pygmy chimpanzee. Kano has observed this cousin of the more common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) for nearly 20 years and can rec ognize 150 individuals, includ ing the male Fuchi (right). Suddenly several young males enter the clearing and hastily grab some stalks. "They want to get some before the senior females show up," says Kano. Soon an influential female appears, and the males back off. With relaxed confidence she col lects sugarcane and walks to the edge of the forest. The males reappear to resume feeding, joined by other bonobos. Males rub rumps or engage in what looks like mating. Females embrace, rubbing genitals. Males mingling with no obvi ous hierarchy, females holding sway over males. What's going on here? That is what many pri matologists are asking. The bonobo is the "newest" ape, classified as a species in 1933. Even its name stirs con troversy. "Pygmy chimpanzee" is a misnomer for an animal no smaller than many chimps; "bonobo" apparently derives from Bolobo, a town where specimens were collected in the 1920s for museums more inter ested in bones than in behavior.