Bonobo – Pan paniscus

The last great ape discovered was the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee, now considered one of the living creatures closest to humans.


At first glance, the bonobo is not much different from the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) but it has a smaller height, and its face is black. In general, it has a height ranging from 70 to 83 centimeters; The males weigh from 34 to 60 kilograms and the females about 30 kilos, approximately. Some can reach a height up to 1.2 meters.

Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Pan

Bonobos have a smaller head than the common chimpanzees, relatively small ears, broad nose, upper limbs longer than the lower ones and a more delicate and thin appearance. Their face is black, and their coat has the same color.

Distribution and habitat

Bonobos (Pan Paniscus) have a very limited distribution: they inhabit only a region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, south of the river of the same name, in central Africa. Other rivers delimit the area where this species lives; Sankuru-Kasai River is to the south and west, and the Lualaba River is to the east. The entire area is about 500,000 square kilometers, but in recent years some bonobos have been found in areas beyond this traditional range.

They dwell in primary and secondary rainforests and forests that flood seasonally, as well as in lowlands with altitudes lower than 1,500 meters that have a humid climate. In general, the elevation above the sea level of the land where they inhabit ranges from 300 to 700 meters.

Information about the bonobo

Bonobo or Pygmy chimpanzee – Pan paniscus


In seasons of abundance, fruits constitute more than 50 percent of their diet.

Fruits (including seeds, leaves, and flowers) are the quintessential food of bonobos; In seasons of abundance, fruits constitute more than 50 percent of their diet. But it should be emphasized that they are omnivorous animals, which occasionally trap termites, terrestrial worms, beetles, butterflies, larvae and other invertebrate animals. Although they do not do it very often, they have been seen hunting small mammals like Duikers, a family of antelopes, flying squirrels, shrews, and bats, but this is only when the opportunity arises.

They consume more stems than common chimpanzees. Other sources of plant foods are tubers, sprouts, grains, barks, roots, and nuts. From time to time they feed on mushrooms.


The habits of this species are unique in the animal world and have surprised scientists. They are diurnal animals, which perform their principal activities during the day, and highly social. They live in permanent communities of 30 to 80 individuals on average, but sometimes they are up to 150, which dominate territories of 20 to 60 square kilometers. Groups often split into smaller groups to find food or travel.

Grooming is sometimes a greeting or an action to strengthen the bond between them or just to relieve stress.

Unlike many species of social animals, males tend to stay in the troop were they were born, and females, as they grow, abandon the group where they were born and join another. They build strong relationships with each other, and as a rule, the coexistence between the genders is peaceful, with few incidents of conflicts or physical struggle. Whether or not a male bonobo dominates a troop usually depends on the ranking of its mother; while more important she is in the group, the son has a better chance to lead the community. When a male demonstrates his dominance, he does it through threatening displays, to which others retreat.

Both males and females spend most of the day feeding and grooming each other. It is common that two individuals groom each other. In any case, grooming works as a greeting or as an activity that strengthens the bonds between them or even as a way to relieve stress. The remarkable lack of aggressiveness in the species, even from males toward females, could be due to the abundance of food in their habitat, but that is only a theory.

Pygmy Chimpanzee - Pan paniscus

Pygmy Chimpanzee, mother and infant.

They spend most of their time on trees and about 20 percent of their day doing activities on the ground, such as travel and looking for food. Interestingly, they can walk biped, that is, on two legs, which for a few moments gives them a look closer to that of humans.

Their sexual practices is another feature that relates them more to us than common chimpanzees. Sexual encounters are frequent between males and females, individuals of the same sex and very different ages, in practices like face-to-face copulation or oral sex, although not only for reproduction but the construction of bonds, social cohesion, and negotiation, among other non-reproductive purposes.

Bonobos infants have a slower development than young common chimpanzees.


Sexual maturity usually is between 13 and 15 years of age but can sometimes happen from nine years old. There is not a particular period of reproduction; A male knows that a female is ready to mate when the female’s perineal tissue on the back of their body swells. They can mate with any male, except with their children.

After about eight months (240 days) of gestation, a single infant is born that is under protection and care from its mother for about 4-5 years. Young Bonobos have a slower development than common chimpanzee similars.

Threats and conservation

State of conservation: in danger of extinction.

Bonobos are at risk of extinction, as their total population undergoes a reduction and their distribution range shrinks. Their most serious threats are poaching for commercial purposes, the reduction and degradation of their habitat and the lack of social awareness about their importance. Their trade is prohibited, and it is a legally protected species in its country, although the conservation efforts still require more enforcement to increase their total population and guarantee their survival.

Bonobo Infographic!

Bonobo infographic.
(Click for expand)










World of Animals Issue 12. Imagine publishing.

Frans de Waal. Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape. University of California Press, 1998.

Takeshi Furuichi, Jo Thompson. The Bonobos: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Springer Science & Business Media, 2007.

BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.