"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin

Sep 6, 2007

Sex for a Handshake

Bonobo research continues despite Congo unrest.

Vanessa Woods and friends

Researchers have gone to the Democratic Republic of Congo to study the social behavior of bonobos -- a close relative of the chimpanzee -- in the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in Kinshasa.

Vanessa Woods, an author and a participant in the study, will be posting daily updates at

"We're always comparing ourselves to chimpanzees, but they're only half the picture," said Woods. "Bonobos and chimpanzees are so opposite in many ways, that we really need to understand bonobos if we're ever going to understand ourselves."

Woods and her colleagues from the Max Planck Institute in Germany will look at cooperation, play behavior and altruistic characteristics in the primates.

"A lot of our experiments look silly, like when I throw a bright red soccer ball back and forth, or wave a red porcupine around. But a lot of these games help us understand the way bonobos think. Are they as obsessed with objects as we are? Are they scared of new things?"

Bonobos are smaller than chimps and live in female-dominated societies. They are widely known for the prominent role that sex plays in conflict resolution.

Because the researchers are studying psychology, they can observe bonobos in the unnatural setting of a 35 hectare forest reserve in Kinshasa.


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Dave Z said...

What are the current numbers in terms of individuals that have survived the recent "troubles" in neighboring CAR?
I remember they were projecting low totals. Hope they were wrong.

Eric Michael Johnson said...

I don't believe any bonobos live in CAR at all, which makes the current political troubles of DR Congo all the most vital. However, the rough estimates of total bonobo population levels are lower than 10,000 individuals which make this species critically endangered. Vanessa Woods and Brian Hare are working at a bonobo sanctuary just outside the capital of Kinshasa. So the bonobos they're working with aren't "wild" but live in a protected habitat and are provisioned.