The Bonobo Species Survival Plan® manages the genetic and demographic health and oversees the care of bonobos in AZA zoos.








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Pan paniscus
The bonobo is a great ape species closely related to the chimpanzee but geographically separated from chimpanzees by the Congo-Lualaba River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The species was originally called the "pygmy chimpanzee," but the term bonobo is used more widely today.

Natural History
Bonobos reside in the inner Congo Basin of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), south of the Congo River. They primarily inhabit primary and secondary lowland rainforest and occupy savanna mosaic forests in extreme portions of their range. Although they live in both dry forest and swampy areas, they tend to prefer drier habitats, especially for nesting. Bonobos travel primarily on the ground and have large home ranges (7 km2-15 km2). Males roam over much more of their home range than females.

Bonobos eat fruit, leaves, pith, flowers, seeds, nuts, insects, and sometimes small mammals such as duiker, flying squirrels, and monkeys. Bonobos also have been observed foraging from streams and marshlands for aquatic plants, insects, and possibly fish.

Females sexually mature at age nine and are considered adults between 13 and 14 years of age, around which time they have their first offspring. Bonobo females give birth approximately every five years and on average have between four to five young in their lifetime. The average lifespan for bonobos is estimated to be in the 40s.

In captivity, bonobos use tools as readily as chimpanzees, but tool use in wild bonobos does not seem to be as elaborate as in wild chimpanzees. Some examples of tool use in wild bonobos include using leaves as cover for rain, or the use of branches in social displays. Each night, an adult bonobo makes a new night nest for sleeping. During the day they make day nests, which are smaller and less sophisticated constructions than night nests. Nests are usually made in trees, but occasionally ground nests have been observed.

Social Behavior
Bonobos live in communities comprised of between ten and 120 individuals. Within a community, bonobos often form small temporary subgroups (parties). Membership in subgroups often changes, whereas membership of community rarely changes except for births, deaths, and migrations. Males tend to stay in their natal community, whereas females immigrate and can move to several new communities before settling down. Interactions between neighboring communities are less violent than in chimpanzees and unlike chimpanzees, bonobos also do not appear to patrol the boundaries of their territory.

Having a diverse diet and living in a resource-rich environment is thought to have enabled bonobos to evolve a more relaxed social system relative to chimpanzees and other great apes. Female coalitions form the core of bonobo social structure. Female status in the group is linked to age, acceptance by other females, and sexual attractiveness.

Bonobos communicate using a wide range of vocalizations and gestures. Compared to chimpanzees, bonobos appear to use and combine vocalizations and gestures more flexibly. They hoot over long and short distances, mostly when they arrive at feeding or nesting sites. Vocalizations are also made during feeding, copulation, and in response to danger.


Threats and Conservation
Bonobos are considered endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 50,000 bonobos remaining in the DRC. Civil war, bushmeat hunting, live-animal trade, agricultural expansion, and logging have significantly decreased the distribution of bonobos in the inner Congo Basin. Hunting and deforestation are the biggest threats to bonobos. Due to the long lasting conflict in the DRC, conservation in the bonobos' natural habitat has been limited. A number of national and international organizations continue to promote conservation efforts. Protected areas for bonobos in DRC include the Salonga National Park and four reserves, covering approximately 23% of the bonobo historical range. However even in protected areas hunting still goes on. A bonobo action plan was published in 1995 and revised in 2002. The action plans identify current conservation priorities and recommend specific conservation actions, research, regulation, and education. In 2011 an international conference was convened to accelerate conservation planning among a broad suite of stakeholders and create a national bonobo conservation strategy that will consider how to conserve the bonobo as well as account for human population needs.

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