News / Science & Technology

Free-Loving 'Hippie Chimps' Face Extinction

'The Bonobo Connection' examines most endangered of African apes

The endangered bonobo is the only primate, other than humans, which engages in sex for reasons other than procreation.(Courtesy "The Bonobo Connection")
The endangered bonobo is the only primate, other than humans, which engages in sex for reasons other than procreation.(Courtesy "The Bonobo Connection")
Deep in the forest of the African Congo lives an animal most people have never heard of.

It looks like a chimpanzee, but is smaller and leaner. And like the chimpanzee, it shares almost 99 percent of our DNA.

But these rare creatures of the rainforest are actually bonobos, a completely different species of primate. And while they are the last ape to have been discovered, bonobos may be the first to become extinct.

'Hippie chimps'

While bonobos and chimps are our closest relatives, they are actually very different from each other, especially when it comes to their behavior.

Unlike chimpanzees, which can be aggressive and efficient predators - killing monkeys, and sometimes each other - bonobos are peaceful.  

“Whereas chimpanzees have a male-dominated society," says Sally Coxe, president of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative in Washington, "bonobos are matriarchal. The females are in charge.”
'Hippie Chimps' Face Extinctioni
|| 0:00:00
X
June 11, 2012 1:35 PM
Deep in the forest of the African Congo lives an animal most people have never heard of. They look like chimpanzees, but are smaller and leaner. And like the chimpanzee, share almost 99 percent of our DNA. But these rare creatures of the rainforest are actually bonobos, a completely different species of primates. And while they are the last ape to have been discovered, bonobos may be the first to become extinct. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.

Bonobos are also different in that they have a more egalitarian and cooperative society than chimpanzees, she says.

Bonobos are also highly sexual. According to Coxe, “they are the only primate other than humans that has sex not just for procreation. They have sex a lot and they do it in every way, shape or form. They’re actually bi-sexual.”

In fact, bonobos use sex as a way of resolving conflict.

This has given them the label, the ‘make love, not war’ apes or the ‘hippie chimps.’

'The Bonobo Connection'

Award-winning filmmaker Irene Magafan recently completed a documentary called “The Bonobo Connection,” which follows a family of bonobos at the Columbus Zoo in the U.S. state of Ohio.

She says bonobos have gone unnoticed for so long and are extremely underrepresented “because most people just know of chimpanzees. You don’t learn about bonobos in schools or in books. It’s just not there.”
 
Filmmaker Irene Magafan with baby Teco, the newest addition to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 2011.(Courtesy Irene Magafan)Filmmaker Irene Magafan with baby Teco, the newest addition to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 2011.(Courtesy Irene Magafan)
x
Filmmaker Irene Magafan with baby Teco, the newest addition to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 2011.(Courtesy Irene Magafan)
Filmmaker Irene Magafan with baby Teco, the newest addition to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, in November 2011.(Courtesy Irene Magafan)
And yet bonobos are the most endangered African ape.

Magafan says the biggest threat to bonobos is by far the bush meat trade.

“People are hunting bonobos…they're killing these animals, and they're taking them back to market to sell them.”

Leading scientists estimate there may be as few as 7,000 bonobos left in the wild, all in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And there are less than 200 bonobos in captivity, in the United States and Europe, which may be one of the reasons they have gone ‘unnoticed’ for so long.

But, working with the government and local community, The Bonobo Conservation Initiative has set up two protected nature reserves, including one larger than Belgium.  

And then there is Lola Ya Bonobo - the only bonobo sanctuary in the world - located just outside of Kinshasa. Orphaned bonobos are nursed back to health there and if possible, released back into the wild.   

Importance of habitat

In making sure there is a protected habitat to return them to, Magafan says, we benefit as well.

“Bonobos inhabit the second largest rainforest in the world," she says. "We have the Amazon rainforest and we then have the Congo forest.These are our lungs of the earth and this is how our earth breathes. The Congo rainforest is where we get a lot of our medicines, and it’s where the earth gets a lot of its oxygen, so imagine us losing that.”

Sally Coxe can’t imagine it either, and says meeting a bonobo is not like anything else on this earth.  

“Bonobos are so highly intelligent; they are so naturally compassionate, naturally peaceful, insightful beings that getting to know them personally as I have, they’re like people and in some ways better than people," she says. "We really have so much more to learn about bonobos that we have barely scratched the surface.”

Coxe and Magafan say that by understanding bonobos and how they live, both in the wild and in captivity, we can learn how to live more peaceful lives ourselves.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid