4 Lessons Humans Can Learn From Bonobos

What can we learn from observing our great ape cousins, the bonobos? A lot.

1. Make Love, Not War

Bonobos are close genetic relatives of chimpanzees, with the two splitting into separate species around 1 million to 2 million years ago. Of course, human beings separated from the common ancestor of both groups prior to that, so bonobos and chimpanzees also are close relatives of our own species. You might say they are sister species to each other and first cousins to humans — which means observing bonobos could lend as much insight on human nature as observing chimps.

The idea that violence in chimp society is a reflection of the darkness in humans is perhaps a bit overblown, not to mention fatalistic. But even if you hold to this belief, you must acknowledge that the peace-loving behavior of bonobos reflects a potential within human beings, as well.

2. Reduce Your Dinner Plate’s Ecological Footprint

Chimpanzees hunt and eat meat, occasionally coming close to extirpating prey species, including certain monkeys, from their region due to overhunting. To be clear, chimps eat far less meat than we do. But bonobos eat even less, limiting themselves to the occasional small animal and insect.

The bulk of their diet is made of various vegetation, including shoots, leaves, nuts and fruit. Like us, they are omnivores and capable of digesting a wide variety of foods. But unlike us, they have a diet that is more sustainable.

3. Be Humble

We might be the smartest species on Earth — I use “might” advisedly, as there is some degree of doubt there — but is any aspect of our intelligence entirely unique? Bonobos exhibit tool use that is on par with Stone Age Homo sapiens. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not that long ago. You could certainly extend that idea and consider there might be intelligent life somewhere in the universe that’s just a couple million years ahead of us. You’ll quickly realize we are not likely to be top dog from a broader context.

So maybe we can celebrate some of our species’ small victories but consider that the best might still be ahead of us. We will need to continue to learn and grow our humanity if we hope to solve the biggest challenges of our time — and future challenges yet hidden from us. And if we’re going to learn, we can learn a lot from our fellow species, including the bonobo.

4. You Don’t Know What You Have Until It’s Gone

Bonobos are endangered. And considering the scientific, humanitarian and philosophical insights we’ve gleaned from studying these cousins of ours in the decades we’ve known about them, it seems obvious their loss as a species would defy simple calculation.

This is true of many endangered species. We really have no clear idea of exactly how much we stand to lose. And that’s even more true the less we know about the species we are in danger of losing. So please do what you can to support endangered species, and pull more of them back from the brink of disappearing forever.

This May, Care2 is launching a campaign to protect endangered species. Join us to save these real-life fantastic beasts!

Photo credit: USO/Getty Images

75 comments

Noburub G
Noburub Ghail2 months ago

So... They are dying out because they are dumber and weaker than actual chimpanzees. They cannot hunt, because they are waek. They learned to use tools, like a dog a trick, while chimps developed tools on their own. They livin in a safe space without dangerous animals, and if some leopards find their ways in, all of them will die.
And we should take them as a role model right?
Here's some more insight from monkey news:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSm8_mcEZK4

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Daniel N
Daniel N2 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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David C
David C2 months ago

sometimes humanity would be a lot better if we learned from the animals....

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David C
David C2 months ago

thanks, all good advice

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Vincent T
Vincent T2 months ago

thank you

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heather g
heather g2 months ago

This is not a just world - perhaps Bonobos could teach us about that as well.

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Melania P
Melania P2 months ago

Cool!

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salah z
salah zoubiri2 months ago

Shared

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salah z
salah zoubiri2 months ago

Tyfs

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer2 months ago

‘’The whole world must be looked upon as one single country, all the nations as one nation, all men as belonging to one race. Religions, races, and nations are all divisions of man’s making only, and are necessary only in his thought; before God there are neither Persians, Arabs, French nor English; God is God for all, and to Him all creation is one.’’ feom yhe Baha'i Faith writings. www.bahai.org

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