3 for Thursday: 3 Examples of Bonobo Intelligence

Beni and Pole have a little snuggle. Credit: Vanessa Woods, Duke University. Source: NSF.Gov

Beni and Pole have a little snuggle. Credit: Vanessa Woods, Duke University. Source: NSF.Gov

Every so often I have to write or tweet something about bonobos. I recently reviewed the book, The Bonobo and the Atheist here at The Discarded Image and felt it was time to put together another “why bonobos rock” post using the three videos below.

A Little Background

Bonobos are closely related to the chimpanzee, but they are different in many ways and, in fact, more closely related to human beings than any other primate. We share approximately 99% of our genes with them. They are found only in the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa and they are endangered.

Said to be discovered in 1928 by scientist Ernst Schwarz, they were recognized as being their own species. Within little time, primatologists began noting the distinct characteristics of the bonobo. The span of their arms and legs are closer to humans and they are known for bipedal walking, especially in captivity. Unlike chimpanzees, they are matriarchal and socially oriented, willing to share with each other, demonstrating empathy and altruism. They resolve conflict through sex, which they often do face to face, and which until recently was thought to only be a human characteristic.

They are able to pass the mark test, a mirror test used to test primates for self-awareness. They express joy, they console each other, and they laugh. A study of bonobo laughter showed a strong connection to human infants. Chimps are similar in this area (see this RadioLab episode near the 18:30 minute mark). They are able to understand human language (including novel sentences) and use a computer to communicate.

In full disclosure, I also give to the Bonobo Conservation Initiative, so in doing my part to raise bonobo awareness, let me give you three videos demonstrating bonobo intelligence.

1) They can light camp fires and toast marshmallows on a stick

Kanzi is known for an astonishing level of intelligence, including communicating through a computer (lexigram) and (unexpectedly) learning sign language by watching a video of Koko the gorilla signing. Recently, a video went viral of Kanzi lighting a camp fire and toasting marshmallows. Read the full article on this here.

2) They are able to feel the beat of music and match it by playing a bongo

Read the full article about this study at Science News.

3) They are more organized than chimps in using tools and figuring out puzzles

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