I have written about Bonobos in the past, I hope that readers are aware of this species. In brief, Bonobos (often known as Pygmy chimpanzees) are a separate great ape species. These two species split about 1 million years ago as the Congo river formed and became an impenetrable boundary between them intermixing again.
Found only in the DRC and the last of the great ape species to be discovered, Bonobos should be of great interest to humans.
From arranged marriages to informal dates, for millennia parents have often been involved in arranging their offsprings spouses.
It would appear that in the Bonobo world, things work in a similar way. Bonobos are a female dominated world. In Chimpanzees and Gorillas, generally it is the male who decides to mate, and forces himself on the female. It is certainly more complicated than this, partly because the males with the strength to do this are often the largest and therefore the most wanted anyway. Yet in Bonobos it works differently.
A significant amount of time is spent by Bonobo mothers, shepherding their male offspring to groups of suitable females and then standing guard to avoid there being any interruptions. Quite rightly, if this sort of behaviour was to be seen in humans, it would often be considered tantamount to rape. What you must remember, is that in Bonobos society mating is as casual as shaking hands is to humans. Far from the females disliking this behaviour it is accepted.
As a result of this, male bonobos who live with their mother tend to have far more offspring. While in bonobo society, the group is dominated by females, the lower ranks appear to be more fairly balanced. As a result, many mothers are high in the ranking, allowing them to give their sons a leg up.
To check this hypothesis, a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania was also watched, along with a group in Uganda and the Ivory coast. mothers in both species help their sons in fights, but only the bonobos had an increased chance to mate. Given the male dominance in Chimpanzees, mothers can have less impact.
There are many threats facing the great apes of Africa, from habitat destruction and fragmentation, to hunting for bush meat. Unfortunately, it is now thought that Chimpanzees gorillas and Bonobos face a still greater threat (assuming humans avoid killing off what remains of their population) the loss of about 94% of their remaining habitat due to forest die off from the warming that we are creating.
Even under our most rosy scenario, they stand to loose 85% of their range.
The same studies suggest that as areas become unsuitable, there are likely to be other that become suitable. Unfortunately, dealing with slow adapting animals this will not help at all without significant assistance from humans.
What is even more scary is that this loss would occur by 2050.
I find this horrifying. I have not been able to yet visit any wild great ape populations, and now it looks as though their future is severely limited. It also looks like, by the time my children have children the huge forests of Africa teeming with wildlife, will be no more.
We must act now!
Human communities which live alongside great ape populations must benefit. Of course these communities must not grow and crowd out the wildlife, but if a similar system can be set up that worked for the mountain gorillas, perhaps many of the great apes could be saved and at the same time, pull millions of Africans living in poverty, into more sustainable and profitable lives.
This is not something that must be left to African governments. Indeed, it also must not be just left to tourism. Governments around the world, need to help in this work.
As well as replanting and recovering rainforests across the globe, the human population as a whole needs to work together to save the remaining tropical rainforests which are so precious to our future and that of our descendants.
A French company Biotope is working on sustainable cohabitation between chimpanzees and local communities in the highlands of western central Guinea.
The west African Chimpanzee once numbered around 2 million. Currently there are roughly 500,000, but without urgent action that number is liable to move quickly down to close to zero.
Conservation for its own sake is all very well for those people living on the other side of the world. For those who live close by it is a different matter. Ending the population explosion that is occurring in Africa, is essential both for the human and wildlife populations that share this continent. Similar programs could do the same thing in south America and Asia.
I am well aware that even if successful, this website will only be part of the solution, but I hope that with your support we can do some good.
According to the African wildlife foundation estimates, there are 15000 to 20000 bonobos left in the wild. Bonobos or pygmy chimpanzees are thought to genetically be closer to humans, certainly their appearance – they are thinner, have thinner faces and a more noticeable crop of hair on their head, but are horrifically threatened.
Yet it would appear that even this estimate is too high.
Current prediction is great apes will lose 80% of their habitats by 2050
Of the great ape species, 3 out of the 4 non human species live in Africa. This is why it is so alarming the current estimates are that by 2050 great habitat will have reduced by 80%.
This is also a huge concern for the rest of the world. An 80% reduction in rainforest cover in Africa could make halting global warming impossible.
Obviously there are multiple strands of global warming and halting species loss. Unfortunately this could sink both problems into impossible or near impossible to solve.
Furthermore, there are other sad facts about this idea. Farmland rarely benefits the people who live in its vicinity. The huge plantations of Indonesia have destroyed the rainforests but they have not lifted living standards, indeed in many places they have eradicated the ability for locals to live – forcing them to leave their home.
Game reserves require significant staff to look after the guests. Furthermore, there are a great deal of resources that can be extracted without destroying the trees above. This allows locals to increase their standard of living, while at the same time allowing the rainforests to stay standing and the wildlife that lives there to continue to thrive.
It would seem that it should be possible to dig deep mines under rainforests without cutting the forest down first. Obviously we come back to the problem of poaching that might increase with the mine workers, but the simple fact is that most mines do not disturb the surface (except for the mine entrance). It likely increases mine costs, but given the wealth of minerals that are thought to lie under the Congo rainforest it should be more than worth it.
I do not want to have to explain to my grand children, why there are no great rainforests left in Africa. I have only visited one rainforest (that of the Udzungwas in East Tanzania), but apart from the environmental services that these places provide there are many parts of the planet which rapidly turn to desert if you remove the rainforests covering the ground.
It is thought that between global warming and habitat loss, 90% of the remaining great ape range will be lost – potentially as early as 2050!
The loss of these rainforests will make climate change mitigation far harder, and I do not wish for my grandchildren to grow up in a world where there is no such thing as a large rainforest. As elsewhere, the loss of the apex species such as great apes both makes conservation harder, and imperils the ecosystem as a whole, as less visitors come so there is less money for protection.
Chimpanzees and bonobos look very similar to the untrained eye. Indeed, in the past it was not uncommon for them to be housed together, at least until the keeper saw the bonobo getting beaten over and over again.