In present-day Africa, two species of chimpanzees inhabit the jungles and forests of some parts of the continent. Both belong to the order Primates and the family Hominidae. All hominids are related, that is, they share some characteristics, starting with an advanced intelligence that enables them to use tools.
The two species are:
– The common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes).
It lives in central Africa, to the north, east and west of the Congo River and it has four subspecies.
– The bonobo (Pan paniscus), also known as the pygmy chimpanzee. It lives only in the south of the Congo River, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The best known is the common chimpanzee, which has been part of popular culture for a long time. The bonobo is less popular and was discovered in Africa less than 100 years ago.
The same genus (Pan), two different species.
The genus Pan contains both species, which share with the Homo sapiens (human being) about 98 percent of the genetic material. This percentage makes the common chimpanzee and the bonobo the species more related to man, even more than gorillas.
The bonobo was discovered in Africa less than 100 years ago.
Both species are different from each other, although at first glance they appear to be the same. Pan troglodytes is a powerful animal, with light-color lips and face and prominent ears. Pan Paniscus is distinguished by having a dark or black face and being thinner and smaller than its relative. Also, the bonobo is an inherently peaceful creature, while the common chimpanzee tends to show more aggressiveness against his fellows.
What is the reason why two chimpanzee species live very close and do not have noticeable physical differences for those who know them little? Well, the distribution range of each species is limited by the Congo River. Common chimpanzees live in the north, east and west of the river, and bonobos in the south. They are not in the same place, they do not mate or interact with each other, and that is why both species developed independently through time.
One theory suggests that chimpanzees split into two species long ago, through an evolutionary process called allopatric speciation. This process occurs when populations of the same species are isolated geographically; and in this case, the ancestors of the chimpanzees were separated from each other during the formation of the Congo River, more than 1 million years ago.
Two different species, similar appearances
Although the term “Chimpanzee” has typically applied to both species, the name “bonobo” is now becoming more relevant to Pan Paniscus.
Both species have remained separated over time, as the Congo River bounded them geographically.
Regarding their physical appearance, both species are very similar. They have similar body shape, anatomical features such as opposable fingers, the ability to walk on the knuckles of hands, black fur, prominent ears and long arms. At first glance, a bonobo could easily be confused with a common chimpanzee if the observer does not know that the former has a dark face and a thinner body than the latter. However, the differences between them are more dramatic in behavior rather than appearance.
Common chimpanzees are highly social species, living in large communities dominated by a male; aggressive, competitive and even violent with other members of the same species and sometimes the same group. But bonobos are a peaceful, conflict-free animals which coexist pacifically contrasting with the aggressiveness of the common chimpanzees. Also, the social structure of the bonobos is slightly different as the leaders are females, and their sexual practices go beyond reproductive purposes.
In short, chimpanzees are two fascinating species that you can meet.
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