A Case Study Of Bonobos Biology Essay

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The bonobo (Pan paniscus) (Figure 1) is a great ape most closely related to the chimpanzee. (Bonobo) It is the most unknown of the great apes because it lives in an isolated rain-forest region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, located in the central part of Africa. (life of) The Bonobo was only identified as a species in its own right in 1933.

Figure 1 Male Bonobo or Pygmy Chimpanzee (Pan Paniscus) (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010)Often described as the pygmy chimpanzee, pygmy is an unsuitable name as the body weight of bonobos is, on average, the same or a little less than that of the common chimpanzee. Compared to the common chimpanzee, the body weight of the bonobo is balanced in a different way; with the centre of gravity being lower, making it achievable for the bonobo to rise upright and walk bipedally with ease. (Bonobo) (Zoo society)

Bonobos are similar in appearance to the chimpanzee, but the main differences between the species lie in their body proportions. Bonobos have a much narrower skull and have a much more slender body and elongated limbs. When the bonobo stands up right there back is very strait, this gives them a very human like posture. Their hind limbs are shorter then their forearms and they have a short thumb. They have black hair covering their body, but their face, palms and soles are bare (Flannery, 2008). There is sexual dimorphism in the weight and teeth. The average weight of an adult male is around 39 kilograms, and the female weighs around 30 kilograms, and the males canines are longer then the females. (Lang 2005) (Flannery, 2008) The long-limbed body arrangement of the bonobo is thought to be an alteration for climbing and living an arboreal lifestyle. The head and ears of bonobos are smaller then chimpanzees and they have less brow mass over the eyes than chimpanzees. Their facial skin is darkly pigmented, and their hair is generally parted in the centre of the head with sideburns on both sides of their face. (Zoo society)(Bonobo book)

Some scientists believe that bonobos are the most intelligent animals after humans. The bonobo (Figure1) along with the chimpanzee are the closest living relatives to humans sharing over 98% of our genetic material. Genetic evidence suggests that humans last shared a genetic ancestor with bonobos a mere 6 million years ago. (Bonobo book) (Santiago) (Lang 2005). Because of the similar morphological, physiological and behavioural traits between bonobos and Homo sapiens, some anthropologists regard the bonobo as the best existing example for the common ancestor of humans, suggesting we have evolved from a common ancestor who looked a lot like a long legged bonobo. (Lang 2005)(Bonobo)

Sadly, there are only a small number of bonobos left in the wild and so they are considered the most in danger of extinction of all the great apes. Humans continue to move into their habitat, hunting bonobos for food and selling their babies into the pet trade. Commercial logging operations create new roads to harvest timber, giving people easier access to hunt or capture not just the bonobo but many different rain forest species. There are also a small amount of bonobos in zoos. That helps breed and maintain the species. (Bonobo book) (Encyclopaedia (sandiago zoo)

(zoo society)

Current status and distribution

(Figure 2)estimated geographical range of P. paniscus (in red) (National Primate Research Centre 2005)According to The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (2009) the bonobo is listed as endangered "Due to high levels of exploitation and loss of habitat and habitat quality due to expanding human activities". There isn't a substantive estimate of the number of bonobos that remain in the wild, although according to the IUCN (2009) and the National Primate Research Centre (2005), approximate estimates present a total population size between 5,400 and 50,000, these numbers can be believed overly hopeful though and the true population size is unknown, reflecting our poor understanding of this ape. What is known however is that bonobos no longer exist in much of their previous historic range? According to the National Primate Research Centre (2005) their wild populations have been reduced to a great extent by deforestation and human intrusion. The WWF states that populations have deteriorated rapidly over the last 30 years, but few surveys have taken place due to many years of civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the only known place where bonobos reside. (Figure 2)

In the book by Furuichi et al (2007) it states that bonobo distribution if thought to be patchy and discontinuous, and widely scattered, even in areas where suitable habitat exists. WWF (2010) states that bonobos actual geographic range remains unknown, however they have been known to be found between the Zaire River, the Lomami River, the Kasai/Sankuru Rivers, and the Lac Tumba/Lac Ndombe region, although bonobos look as if they are absent from the middle part of this area between the Momboyo River and the Busira River. Inside this big forest zone (350,000 km²) Bonobos are absent and rare within this range and are only found in a few scattered areas. The IUCN (2009) suggest that because much of their range is located next to, and fragmented and restricted by rivers their gene pool is very much restricted. This patchy dispersal means the effective population of male bonobos is smaller then that of the female populations. (Life of)(Zoosociety)(IUCN)

Habitat and Ecology

.(Figure3) Aerial view of current forest and grassland habitat in Zaire shows how historic changes in the forest may have created a new niche for apes. Some populations may have been forced to increasingly rely on savannah resourcesAccording to the IUCN (2009) and in the book by Waal (2007) it is stated that the bonobos occupy three different kinds of forest within their range depending on variations in elevation. Bonobos are located mostly in lowland rain forests. Its lifestyle is more arboreal than other African apes. In most of its range the bonobo occupies 3 different types of Forrest. 1) Swamp forest near to the rivers in their range that include rather low trees, supported by prop roots, or leaning against each other, because of the loose, muddy soil. 2) Primary forest that grows on firmer foundations and is darker because of the denser canopy and taller trees, (Up to 50m high). Because of the lack of light there is a lot less undergrowth. 3) Secondary rain forest resultant of commercial loggers clear cutting tracts of forest. Vegetation does grow back in these areas but with much less density then primary forests. In some parts of their range, the bonobos habitat varies and alternates between forests, open woodlands, and grasslands.(Figure3)

The IUCN (2009) states that bonobos prefer living in terrestrial ecosystems. A bonobo community (30 to 80 individuals) occupy a home range of 20 - 60 km² of forest. Their ranges vastly overlap with other community's home ranges, this results in small essential areas. Bonobos are mainly a frugivorous species but they also eat shoots, leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, pith, herbs, vertebrates, such as baby duikers and invertebrates such as caterpillars and termites.

(Zoosociety) bonobo book

Methods and techniques used to survey and monitor wild populations

The Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) has built a program of activities in Democratic Republic of Congo called the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative (BCBI). They train field biologists at the salonga national park in survey methodologies such as animal sign and identification, data collection, sampling techniques and GPS usage. Training enables the Congolese to get together and lead bonobo monitoring teams to conduct regional surveys. The ZSM currently support more then 70 trackers who track bonobos with GPS on a daily basis at 10 important bonobo sites.

Field biologists walk along transects using random data sampling techniques. Bonobo nests and food remains are identified and recorded with a Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS is used to map out the bonobos range so they can obtain information on bonobo distribution in protected and non protected areas, once an overall estimation of the population size and distribution is recorded they can compare the differences between the two types of areas. Once a bonobo site is found, monitors are allocated to the area to guard and protect the bonobos from any hunters.

Threats caused by human activities

Furuichi et al (2007) Contend that hunting and habitat destruction from humans is one of the most important threats to bonobo populations. The IUCN (2009) The IUCN (2009) sates that civil unrest and escalating poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo create direct threats to the survival of the bonobo.

(Figure 4 Martin Harvey WWF, 2010. Bushmeat: Apes heads and hands for sale at a fetish market, Congo, Central Africa)

The Congo War, which finished in 2003, caused the loss of more than 4 million lives. tremendous poverty, destroyed infrastructure, and public impacts have led to amplified strains on natural resources and wildlife .Because of the civil war in 2003 weapons are more readily available and, military sanctioned hunting means people are getting away with killing the bonobos. The wavering stability of the Congo has made it almost not possible to study the bonobos, unearth where they are or to know how many are present. With peace recently returned, then the next decade will be crucial in figuring out if bonobos will survive to the next generation.(Freindsofbonobos)

Bonobos are occasionally hunted for medicinal or magical purposes; different body parts are thought to enhance strength and sexual drive. Such things are widely available in some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo; this could suggest that large numbers of Bonobos may be killed on a yearly basis. (Figure 4) (Bonobo conservation initiative 2002)

Killing even a small number of bonobos can have a long term negative impact on local populations, due to their slow rate of maturation, reproduction and unified social communities (Furuichi et al 2007). Adding to this their already low and fragmented population means they are tremendously vulnerable to increasing habitat loss and commercial poaching. (IUCN 2009)(WSPA 2009)

Commercial logging companies cut down the bonobos habitat, large areas of the forest are destroyed in order to remove the logs. Heavy machinery used to infiltrate the forests and build roads causes broad damage to the forests where the bonobos live. The trees are cut down and the heavy machinery compact the soil which diminishes the forests chances of restoration, and complete regeneration takes hundreds of years. Due to the country's corrupt government, despite a government and World Bank suspension on new logging allowances in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and efforts to develop better control in this sector the DRC has been rife with illegal logging (Figure 5) making it hard to monitor how much of the forest is being destroyed. (Butler 2007) (WWF 2010)(Bonobo initiative 2002)

Greenpeace (2007) state that "Predictions for future deforestation in Central Africa estimate that by 2050 ... The DRC risks losing more than 40% of its forests, with transport infrastructure such as logging roads being one of the major drivers."This means that in as little as 40 years 40% of the bonobos potential habitat is going to be destroyed by logging activities.

Increasing human population changes leads to the bonobos natural habitat becoming more and more restricted. Bonobo communities are becoming more isolated due to this restrictive fragmentation and are believed to exist in pockets throughout their range. They are not coming into contact with other communities as often as they would otherwise. Rain forest soils are nutrient deficient and poor quality for agriculture. Remote communities with no access to fertilisers or sustainable farming information commonly practise slash and burn agriculture by clearing and burning areas of the forest to create pasture for livestock and fields to grow crops. This practise is increasingly enriching on the bonobos habitat. (Bonobo Conservation initiative 2002)(IUCN 2009)

Ongoing Issues:

The only ongoing issues with the species are mainly hunting. Trying to educate the local people about the species and how to manage their forests and land effectively are difficult when people have been practising hunting for many years and can't realise how what they are doing is effecting things on a bigger scale such as whole ecosystems.

Infectious diseases are yet to be quantified but are undoubtedly an important threat to wild bonobo populations, and of particular concern in areas where bonobos live side-by-side with humans. The risk of transmission increases with increasing human population density as well as increasing proximity with wildlife

Management techniques

Captive breeding and reintroduction programs:

Bonobo Species Survival Plan

Since 1988 the Zoological Society of Milwaukee (ZSM) has been the headquarters of the Bonobo Species Survival Plan. All Species Survival Plans are under the auspices of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Species Survival Plan© (SSP) is a management program that strives to maintain healthy self-sustaining captive populations of endangered species in zoological facilities throughout North America. The Bonobo SSP contributes to bonobo conservation through research, public education, and field projects, and provides a link between zoos and conservation of wild populations.

All institutions housing bonobos in North America are members of the Bonobo SSP. Bonobos are not commonly found in zoos; as of July 2009, 84 bonobos live in ten zoological institutions in the U.S. and Mexico. In contrast, there are about 270 chimpanzees, 368 western lowland gorillas, and 211 orangutans in AZA U.S. zoos. Because of the small size of the captive bonobo population, intensive management is required to preserve genetic diversity, and achieve demographic stability to ensure a self-sustaining captive population. Furthermore, these management strategies must be conducted on a worldwide basis in order to attain the minimum viable population size required for long-term survival. Toward this end, the Bonobo SSP works in collaboration with our European counterpart, the Bonobo European Endangered Species Program (EEP). Currently, the Bonobo SSP and EEP are developing a joint plan, Bonobo (Pan paniscus) Master Plan 2002: Recommendations for the Global Captive Population. The Master Plan provides breeding and management recommendations for all individual bonobos. Together, the two management groups also published a husbandry manual entitled The Care and Management of Bonobos in Captive Environments. By routinely updating the husbandry manual and supporting behavioral research, the Bonobo SSP and EEP address problems concerning social and reproductive behavior, social development, environmental health, and husbandry standards. Breeding recommendations take into account the social needs of individuals in an effort to preserve normal behavior of the species in captivity.

Each SSP is required to develop a three-year action plan that outlines the program's goals and objectives. SSPs are encouraged to adopt educational projects and field activities in the country of origin to create a direct connection between zoos and field efforts. On behalf of the Bonobo SSP, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee has developed a field program called the Bonobo and Congo Biodiversity Initiative. The bonobo is an important flagship species for conservation of the highly diverse ecosystem of the Congo Basin. Preservation of bonobo habitat means protection of a broad range of rare, endemic or threatened species sharing this habitat.

First ever bonobo release

A bonobo gets used to its new forest surroundings

© Danila Foundation

In June 2009, a group of bonobos cared for by WSPA member society Les Amis des Bonobos undertook a remarkable journey - the first time that a sanctuary has attempted to reintroduce bonobos to the wild.

WSPA's Dr Nick de Souza, welfare adviser to the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, was lead vet for the reintroduction.

Alongside the sanctuary team, he travelled to a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the bonobos most ready for release: males Mbano, Lomela, Beni, Lomami, Kubulu and Max, and females Lukaya, Lisala and Etumbe.

Read about the build up to the release >>

The journey begins!

Nick, fellow vet Dr Marie-Laure Doppajne and the bonobos (in transport cages) boarded a specially adapted plane at Kinshasa airport on June 14. A second plane carried the rest of the team, including Lola ya Bonobo founder Claudine Andre.

Like humans, bonobos can be bad fliers. For the nervous, a mild tranquillizer mixed with honey was applied to the lower lip.

Nick told us: "The flight was uneventful, although Itumbe, a heavily pregnant, extremely intelligent female, was quite anxious. She is extremely protective of her son, Mbano. But once she realized that the whole group was heading for the airport, she relaxed. This was a huge relief - her pregnancy means we cannot dose her too heavily with tranquillizers."

On arrival in Basankusu, 20 police were needed to control hundreds of people who had gathered to welcome the bonobos! Nick noted that the causes of the fanfare - safely in their transport van - were unfazed by this rapturous welcome.

Yet more new experiences

The group then sailed up the Lopori River to a remote location. Flat-bottomed boats were laced together to form a platform for the transport cages.

Nick and Marie-Laure continued to observe and examine the apes en route. This reintroduction is a pioneering move and the animals' welfare and reactions are carefully monitored.

"It's been a weird and wonderful trip," Nick told us. "Although we've had our moments of stress, the translocation went very well. When we arrived we let the bonobos out of the cage one at a time so that they would have a chance to look around and settle in bit by bit."


Preparations for the forest holding pen began in 2008. This stage enables the bonobos to become accustomed to their new surroundings gradually, where their welfare can be monitored.

Nick described their arrival: "The bonobos all seemed to thrill to the freedom of being back in the forest after the long journey. The little ones - like human children flinging themselves out of school at the end of the day - were visibly excited. They ran around, climbing trees, pulling off handfuls of leaves and hurling them down in sheer glee!"

Lisala proved herself the most adventurous, jumping out of the pen to explore. After some time alone, she was joined by Claudine, keen to make sure Lisala wasn't overwhelmed.

Unwilling to be left out, Lukaya clambered up a palm tree and catapulted herself into the forest! There was relief all round when the daring females returned, apparently satisfied with their new surroundings.

On June 15, the bonobos passed tests checking for tuberculosis.

Getting settled

By June 19, all nine were roaming outside the pen quite confidently. After several nights in the wild they appeared to have overcome any nerves. The group was also finding food - a skill they learned at the open spaces of the sanctuary and a promising sign that they are ready for the wild. For now, their new diet of forest fruits is being supplemented by bananas and oranges fed to them in the enclosure. This is a necessary ploy - feeding them in the enclosure means the bonobos will come in for medical and welfare checks during this period of adjustment.

Challenges ahead

A responsible reintroduction program takes time. When the bonobos leave the holding pen for good, Ecoguard - a team of 12 trackers - will monitor them for a number of weeks as they establish themselves in the forest.

Nick hopes that the trackers will be accepted quickly - bonobo society is female dominated and, as an all male team, Ecoguard may take a little time to win their trust!

The greatest long-term challenge to the reintroduction is managing the relationship between the local population and the bonobos. The bushmeat and pet trades are the reason most bonobos end up in Lola ya Bonobo's care in the first place.

But the signs are good. An animal welfare education program has been running in the local area for over a year. Additionally, the sanctuary maintains constant contact with local chiefs and supports nearby schools.

Claudine, who is so dedicated to these apes, will stay on in the reintroduction area for as long as a month.

If you would like to support WSPA's work with primates, please donate today>>

Outbreaks of Ebola among human populations generally result from handling infected wild animal carcasses. Declines in animal populations generally precede outbreaks among human populations. These have led to in 2003 surveillance of animal populations in order to predict and prevent Ebola outbreaks.[49]

Recovered carcasses from gorillas contain multiple Ebola strains, which suggest multiple introductions of the virus. Bodies decompose quickly and carcasses are not infectious after three to four days. Contact between gorilla groups is rare. This suggests transmission among gorilla groups unlikely and that outbreaks result from transmission between viral reservoir and animal populations.[51]

Outbreaks of Ebola have shown a 88% observed decline in chimpanzee populations in 2003.[51] Transmission among chimpanzees through meat consumption constitute a significant 5.2 (1.3-21.1 with 95% confidence) relative risk factor, while contact between individuals such as touching dead bodies and grooming do not.[52]

Reston ebolavirus, which has not previous outbreak in Africa and is non-pathogenic in humans, have recently been recognized among swine populations in the Philippines; this discovery suggest that the virus has been circulating since and possibly before the initial discovery of Reston ebolavirus in 1989 among monkeys.[53]

Solutions: For all purposes for which tropical timber is used, other woods or materials could be substituted.

We can stop using tropical timber and urge others to do the same. As long as there is a market for tropical timbers, trees will continue to be cut down. Labelling schemes, aimed at helping consumers to chose environmental friendly timbers, are currently being discussed in many countries.