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Primates - Man, Bonobo, Chimpanzee

Bonobo - the gentle ape

I recently watched a re-run of a PBS NOVA special about bonobos.[1] For some time, scientists have known that chimpanzees and bonobos share about 98% of their DNA with humans. Current research has shown that bonobos can use and understand language.[2] Analysis of the behavior of the two apes indicates that chimpanzees are bullies, fighters, and murderers who dominate by force, whereas bonobos are peace-loving, social, and sometimes join peacefully with non-related groups of bonobos. Researchers think that unity between the high-ranking bonobo females and year-round social sexual encounters between all members of the bonobo group help to reduce conflicts.

Humans have aggressive traits as well as social traits. The NOVA program tried to imply that the personality of humans may be closer to bonobos than to chimpanzees because we aggregate into social groups, we are very sexual, and we have some altruistic traits. However, as a background to the story, the program mentioned the regional war that spread through the Congo which is the native habitat of bonobos. The researchers studying the bonobo were detained as spies and were lucky to survive the ordeal. The war brought great misery to the area when food became scarce and thousands of people lost their lives through aggression, starvation, or disease.

There is great irony in trying to find good qualities in mankind when there are so many conflicts around us. The lessons of the great world wars have been largely forgotten. Words like Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Gaza, Sudan, and Abu Ghraib evoke images of chaos, destruction, famine, and new forms of torture like "waterboarding". We may be closer to chimpanzees than we would like to admit.

[1] Nova Special on the Bonobo

[2] Linguistic Capabilities of the Bonobo

© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora