The Bonobo is one of our closest relatives. Sadly, they are on the fast track to extinction. Bonobos are not Chimpanzees, rather they are an entirely different species of great ape. Not to mention, they are by far one of the gentlest and least understood of any great ape. This is a must listen to podcast.
The first primate evolved roughly 55 million years ago. Since, there are now over 500 species of primates, to include us, Homo sapiens. Again, a common ancestor to the great apes (Gorilla, Human, Chimpanzee, Orangutan) was Dryopithecus, which lived over 11 million years ago in Euroasia. Eventually they migrated down to Africa, and others to East Asia.
Humans did not evolved from Chimpanzees or bonobos. Rather, Humans, Bonobos and Chimpanzees shared a common ancestor, called Ardipithecus ramidus, dating 4.4 million years old. One split off to become us, while another went off to become Chimpanzees and Bonobos.
Chimpanzees and Bonobos split off around 1 million years ago. Scientists believe they were separated by the Congo River. There is no evidence that Chimpanzees and Bonobos ever bred together.
The most amazing facts about Bonobos is their behavior. These are the gentlest of the great apes. Further, scientists believe they are the smartest great ape, next to humans. Bonobos are also known to be hyper sexual, and rub their genitals in what is called the “Bonobo Handshake.”
Bonobos live to be over 50 years in captivity. It is unknown in the wild, but is assumed similar to chimpanzees, 40 to 50 years. Compared to Chimpanzees, Bonobos are not afraid of water. They also are a female dominated social structure. Bonobos walk more often upright compared to Chimpanzees. They have an omnivore diet. They enjoy eating, leaves, branches, insects, small fish, fruit, and earth worms are a particular favorite. They also have been observed to use tools, among other advanced behaviors.
The IUCN lists Bonobos as Endangered with a max population of 20,000 individuals. However, the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo has severely impacted Bonobos. There may be as few as 5000 Bonobos left in the wild. Constant pressure by humans have drastically reduced this special species. The follwoing graphics from the Bonobos Conservation Initiative demonstrate the threats and actions needed to save these animals.