Friday, October 17, 2008

“Hippie” Apes Leave the Commune, Go Hunting

by Lisa Lombardi

Deep in the forest, south of the river Congo, live the free-lovin’ relatives of the common chimpanzee, the bonobo. Previously known as the pygmy chimpanzee, the bonobo spend their days getting frisky in the forest, weaving hemp hammocks, and living among an ever-present haze of sandalwood smoke.

Image courtesy of USAID
Image courtesy of USAID

Well, maybe not those last two, but they have developed a reputation as being the peaceful hippies of the chimpanzee world. After five years of observation, however, primate researchers stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo have made a startling discovery about these animals: Not only do they hunt and kill, they hunt and kill other monkeys, just like the common chimpanzee.

Dude. Not cool.

The bonobo society is one where females are the head honchos, and their most frequent activity is getting down (if you know what I mean). From saying hello, to solving an argument, to celebrating a resolved conflict—it’s all about the nookie for bonobos. Or so we thought.

In LiuKuotale, Salonga National Park, Gottfried Hohmann’s team of researchers spied a group of bonobos successfully hunting primate prey three separate times. As the team reported in the October 14th issue of Current Biology, two other, unsuccessful, hunting attempts were observed as well. Before this, Hohmann’s team suspected that the bonobo were hunting monkeys based on fresh fecal remnants, but were unsure if the primates were simply stealing another animal’s kill.

As disheartening as it is to picture a little chimp chowing down on his cousin, this news shakes up a lot more than just your stomach. It was thought that aggression, meat consumption, and hunting were thought to be associated with male dominance, as is the case in common chimpanzee society; the bonobo’s relative lack of hunting and meat-eating was attributed to their female-dominant society. This discovery disputes the idea that male dominance and aggression must be linked to hunting.

Chimpanzees—both common and bonobo—are the closest relatives to Homo sapiens, sharing more than 98% of our genes. The close link between humans and chimpanzees make observations such as Hohmann’s especially important.

Original here

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