No, they aren’t hippies wearing tie-dye and peace symbols, but bonobo chimps, aka pygmy chimps, could be mistaken for them. They are believed not to engage in violence like their larger cousins do, and researchers have concluded it is because their social culture is so focused on intimate relations.
A researcher who has studied them said there isn’t a single documented case of a bonobo killing another bonobo, whether in the wild or captivity. They appear to focus their energy on group cohesion and physical touching, rather than aggression and domination. “Whenever things get tense in the bonobo world, they’ll usually have some kind of sociosexual activity and this seems to really help everybody get along. But another one of the ways that they sort of have this peaceful society is they’re naturally more tolerant. They share more, and if one of them gets upset, it’s not just sex but they can also hug and comfort one another,” said anthropologist Brian Hare. (Source: National Science Foundation)
Females in bonobo society are treated more respectfully and they also are well-bonded with one another, two conditions researchers have said that mean males don’t have to compete with one another as much. Instead they participate in a similar manner sharing intimacy and partners. Also a male’s rank in the social hierarchy may be determined by the rank of his mother, rather than by defeating or intimidating other males. It is thought they use physical intimacy not only of social bonding, but also to reduce stress.
Author Vanessa Woods said, “They’re different because they’ve managed to live in a society virtually without violence. How do they do that? Humans, for all of our intelligence and all our technology, we haven’t managed to live without war, and so I think that’s something very important that bonobos can teach us.” (Source: National Science Foundation)
Tragically, bonobo chimps can be found in the wild only in the Congo, where humans have been at war for years. The human war’s impact has put the bonobos in jeopardy, to the point they are an endangered species. There may only be 29,000 to 50,000 left due to habitat loss and hunting for the bush meat trade. Due to the human violence it has been very difficult to study them, so none of the estimates are considered particularly credible.
(The number of human lives lost in the Congo conflicts has been estimated to be 3.9 million since 1998.)
Image Credit: Kabir Bakie