Study Upends Our Thinking on Bonobos

They're not as peaceful as we thought, say researchers
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2024 11:20 AM CDT
Study Upends Our Thinking on Bonobos
   (Getty / Wirestock)

Bonobos have long been thought of as "hippie chimps" in conservation circles because of their supposedly peaceful nature, notes the New York Times. A comprehensive new study, however, appears to have ended that.

  • The stats: Researchers found that male bonobos were nearly three times as likely as chimpanzees to engage in an act of aggression, reports the Guardian. They logged 521 aggressive acts (hitting, pulling, biting, kicking, etc.) over 2,047 hours of tracking in the Democratic Republic of Congo, compared to 654 aggressive acts over 7,309 hours for chimps. (Bonobos are tougher to track in the wild.)

  • A surprise: "There is no 'hippie ape,'" says Maud Mouginot, a biological anthropologist at Boston University who led the study published in Current Biology, tells the Times. Mouginot says she was taken aback by the aggression, which sometimes started first thing in the morning. "I was like, 'Wait, where is the peaceful bonobo in this?'" she says, per National Geographic.
  • Key differences: New Scientist points out some differences: Male chimps tend to gang up when getting violent, and they direct their aggression toward both males and females. Male bonobos, which roam over larger territories, tend to get violent one-on-one with other males and rarely with females. Nor was there any record of bonobos killing each other, as there are with chimps.
  • A basic motivator: What's behind the bonobo aggression? "The research suggests it somehow (gets) them better access to females," per National Geographic. More aggressive bonobos tended to have more offspring, the researchers found. One trait the study didn't dispute is that bonobos tend to have a lot of sex, as the Times puts it. In general, male bonobos are submissive to females, and the opposite is true among chimps.
(More bonobos stories.)

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