Studies of wild apes are fundamental to our understanding of human evolution. Until recently, however, scientists have focused on the violent nature of male chimpanzees to reconstruct early human societies while bonobos, an equally close relative, have been relatively ignored. I began working with the Lomako bonobos in 1983 and have found that bonobo societies are centered on peaceful cooperation and strong social bonds both between males and females and among females. Bonobos show affiliation among unrelated females and long-term bonding between individual males and females. Furthermore, Bonobo communities associate peacefully. Male bonobos do not form strong bonds, an important aspect of lethal raiding for male chimpanzees. Females do bond, however, and consequently closely bonded females have considerable power resulting in milder forms of aggression within their societies. Aggression is further diffused by bonobos via their sexual behavior. Known for their promiscuity, bonobos have sex across age and gender categories. My studies of this important close human relative were suspended in 1998 with the civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2005, I returned to my long-term Lomako Forest field site in central DRC and found that both the national infrastructure and my local friends were very supportive of the return of my research. My return was filmed by the BBC and became part of the NOVA program “The Last Great Ape”.
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