Bonobos are just like us. Only we don’t face extinction.

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Bonobo

Conservation Status:

Endangered

  • Estimated only 15,000-20,000 Bonobos remain
  • Bonobos share 98.7% genetic code with humans
  • There are only 4 Bonobo strongholds

Quick Facts

Scientific name

Pan paniscus

Weight

Males: 36 to 61 kilograms (80 to 135 pounds)<br/>Females: 27 to 38 kilograms (60 to 84 pounds)

Size

Up to 1.2 meters tall (4 feet)

Life span

60 years in captivity. 20 to 50 years in the wild

Habitat

Lowland rainforest, swamp forests

Diet

Frugivorous

Gestation

About 8 months

Predators

Humans

Habitat

Where do bonobos live?

They are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their discontinuous range extends from the Lualaba River in the east to the Kasai/Sankuru rivers in the south and as far as the Congo River in the west and around Lake Tumba/Lake Mai-Ndombe. Only 28 percent of their geographic range is suitable and only four distinct bonobo strongholds have been identified —  Maringa-Lopori-Wamba, Tshuapa-Lomami-Lualaba, Solong, and Lac Tumba-Lac Mai Ndombe. Total bonobo population numbers are unknown because only 30 percent of its historic range has been surveyed. Estimates from the four strongholds, suggest a minimum of 15,000 to 20,000 individuals remain. Only a small portion of their habitat is protected and deforestation is rapidly destroying the rest.

They can survive in close proximity to human communities that are willing to cohabitate with these peaceful apes. Recent surveys show that many areas had bonobos 20 years ago but now they have none. The political instability in the DRC has had a major impact on the species decline.

Tags: Bonobo, DRC, Congo View Africa | Habitat

Physical Characteristics

What are bonobos?

Our closest cousins, bonobos share 98.7 percent of our genetic makeup. They are about two-thirds the size of humans and are covered with dark hair. They’re distinguished by their black faces, red lips, two or three webbed toes, a tail tuft, and parted long hair. Unlike their closest cousins, the common chimpanzees, they are not divided into subspecies.

Behavior & Diet

Bonobos whimper when they fail, just like humans.

They control their emotions during times of happiness, sorrow, excitement, or anger. They also have human-like gestures when communicating without sound — they beg by stretching out an open hand and they whimper if they fail at something.

They walk on their feet and their knuckles.

Bonobos move quadrupedally in a special position called knuckle-walking. In trees, they also tend to suspend themselves from their arms to move around easier. And on the ground, they can walk bipedally (upright on its two feet) as well, making it the most human-like of all apes.

Even the bonobos need their own space.

They live in a fission-fusion society. Their communities range from 30 to 80 individuals but they separate and reunite on a regular basis. During the day, they break off into small groups to gather food. At night, they rejoin their group to make sleeping nests from branches and leaves.

Bonobos love to feast in fruit.

While fruit is their favorite food, they also eat leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, fungus, and honey. More than 113 types of plants make up their diet. They play an important role as seed dispersers, which is critical for forest regeneration. They have been documented eating invertebrates and small vertebrates. If they eat meat, then it’s usually opportunistic versus the result of an organized hunt.

Gallery
  • Bonobo Cyril Ruoso
  • Bonobo Craig R. Sholley
  • Bonobo Craig R. Sholley
  • Bonobo John Watkins ICCE
  • LCSC Andrew Fowler
  • Iyondji Brenda Brainch
Challenges

The bonobos have experienced a significant population reduction in the past 12 to 20 years.

Unfortunately, only a small portion of the their habitat is protected. Due to war in the DRC, illegal activities in the national parks have continued unchecked. Locals depend on the wildlife for protein — even if it’s meat from endangered species. These great apes are also targeted by poachers because of their large size. The civil strife has also caused an increase of destruction and degradation to the bonobo habitat. Logging and subsistence agriculture are also a threat. Industrial extraction could also become a big risk to the species future as 99.2 percent of their range and habitat has been found to be suitable for palm oil.

Their population is shrinking and reproduction cannot happen fast enough.

Females become sexually mature after they’re 12 years old and may give birth soon after. However, females give birth to a single infant every five to six years, and they tend to nurse and carry their babies for five years. As a result, a population growth can’t happen fast enough and bonobo populations really can’t withstand high levels of poaching, habitat loss, and human encroachment.

Solutions

Our solution to the wildlife conservation crisis is hands-on, up close, and personal:

  • Create a conservation plan.

    The bonobos live in the heart of the Congo, and the African Wildlife Foundation has set up a conservation plan to help stop the destruction of these gentle animals and their habitat. We created The Lomako Conservation Science Center in the heart of their habitat. This center supports wildlife surveys, training of Congolese researchers and developing wildlife conservation plans.

  • Get communities involved.

    AWF has surveyed key areas of their habitat and polled local communities on how their needs could fit within AWF's conservation goals.

  • Develop new strategies.

    By regularly monitoring the endangered species numbers and keeping track of where they are, conservationists can develop strategies to find economic alternatives for communities who hunt them for protein.

Projects

Will you show the bonobos your support?

With your help, AWF can continue working on vital programs like providing necessary equipment to the rangers who risk their lives protecting endangered species like the bonobo. Or funding scientific ecotourism projects in the Congo that make communities less reliant on poaching to survive. Donate for a cause that will help with wildlife conservation and ensure the survival of this endangered species.

  • Congo Shipping Project Charly Facheux
    Congo Shipping Project
    Growing the DRC's agricultural options

    Civil war has led to poverty and environmental degradation. 

    Following years of social turmoil and civil war, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was left without a...

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  • LCSC Paul Thomson
    Lomako Conservation Science Center
    Research and solutions for bonobo populations

    Loss of habitat and a skyrocketing bushmeat trade have taken a toll on bonobo populations.

    According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s)...

    Read more
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  • Iyondji Craig R Sholley
    Iyondji Community Bonobo Reserve
    A new community reserve for the endangered bonobo

    Bonobos in danger. 

    One of the greatest threats to wildlife in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is loss of habitat due to land conversion, human encroachment,...

    Read more
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  • Close up of chimp in a tree.
    African Apes Initiative
    Saving Africa’s great apes from the brink of extinction.

    All of Africa’s great ape species are either endangered or critically endangered.

    Africa is home to four of the world’s five great apes: the...

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  • Ilima Conservation Primary School
    Ilima Conservation Primary School
    Going beyond the building to provide a holistic education in DRC

    In a remote part of rural DRC, AWF built a different kind of primary school.

    When AWF arrived in Ilima, the local school was a ramshackle building that failed to serve the educational...

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