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Chimps & Bonobos

chimpanzees bonobo mother with infant
orphan chimpanzees playing in the trees at the chimpanzee sanctuary
female Bonobo carrying her baby
These are humans’ two closest living relatives, both sharing almost 99% of the human genome through common descent


Bonobos and chimpanzees diverged from each other around 2 million years ago and differ in morphology, behavior, and perhaps even emotions and cognition in important ways.

The Bonobo

Bonobos are female dominant, with females forming tight bonds against males through same-sex socio-sexual contact that is thought to limit aggression. In the wild, they have not been seen to cooperatively hunt, use tools, or exhibit lethal aggression.

The Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are male dominant, with intense aggression between different groups that can be lethal. Chimpanzees use tools, cooperatively hunt monkeys, and will even eat the infants of other chimpanzee groups.

Bonobos and Chimpanzees share close to 99% of their genome in common with humans, meaning that their genomes are more similar to that of humans than they are to that of gorillas. However, it may be that Bonobos, whose psychology is virtually unstudied relative to that of chimpanzees, are more similar to humans than are chimpanzees in how they solve various social problems (e.g. Hare, Melis, Woods, Hastings, & Wrangham, 2007). Such similarities may even be partly the result of shared and heritable neurophysiology that potentially regulates the social emotions of humans and Bonobos in similar ways (Hammock & Young, 2005).



Bonobos (Pan paniscus)

Chimps (Pan troglodytes)


slender build, bright pink lips, black face

obust build, facecolour changes with age, dark lips

ecological environment 

  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • South of the Congo river
Across West- and Central Africa, remaining populations distributed over several countries.

sexual dimorphism

  • few sex differences
  • high sex differences

social organization


  • Fission-fusion-societies
  • larger parties that chimps
  • live in 'communities' of multiple males and females and their offspring
  • mother-son- and female-female-bonds very important
  • Fission-fusion-societies
  • live in 'communities' of multiple males and females and their offspring
  • Different group-composition than in Bonobos
  • male-male-bonds very important


  • higher pitched
  • Hoot, scream, grunt,  
  • Drum on hollow trees

dominance hierarchy


  • females form strong bonds and
  • exert social dominance over the males
  •  Linear set of relationships among all males
  • Includes a clear alpha-male

group hunting

not observed yet

cooperative hunting of monkeys




  • groups occupy specific territories,
  • territories can overlap
  • mating across community lines observed
  • specific territories,
  • aggressive patrolling of boundaries,
  • avoidance of neighbors

tool use



only frequently seen in captivity



  • nut cracking
  • ant dipping/ fishing
  • leaf clipping

sexual behaviour






  • used for social bondage
  • pairs can include all age and sex combinations
  • reduction of tension
  • elicit social or food benefits
  • frequent homosexual interactions esp. in females
  • Used as greeting, conflict resolution
  • High ranking males monopolize and guard females in estrus










habitat destruction

infectious diseases



Watch a video here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/07/3/l_073_03.html

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology