With bonobos having a very similar look to chimpanzees, with both species equally sharing almost 99% of their DNA with human beings, they possess many human-like qualities. Bonobos also possess different physical qualities than chimpanzees, generally being darker and leaner. The bonobo society is usually led by females having a peaceful tendency, making them different than most of their relative species. Their etymology tells us that their scientific name is Pan paniscus, of the Pan genus (Balcombe 2011). Though bonobos were formerly known as pygmy chimpanzees, there is speculation as to where the name had originated. Some believe that the name describes their unusual small size compared to chimpanzees while others derive it from the area of which they live in which is also populated by the pygmy peoples (Groves 2005).
Being small isn’t the only attribute that makes the bonobo unique. They are popularly known for their behavior as a society: social, sexual-social, diet, peacefulness, and similarity to humans (Groves 2005). According to Frans de Waal, a Dutch primatologist and ethologist, bonobos can comprehend and experience a range of emotions including patience, kindness, sensitivity, compassion, and selflessness. On top of their ability to experience these emotions, the bonobo society is known to be a “gynecocracy “, or being primarily run by female leadership (de Waal 2013).
In this primate society, female bonobos tend to hold higher social ranks than males. It does not happen to often when there is an aggressive encounter between both sexes. Social hierarchies within the bonobo society exist but do not play a prominent role as compared to other related primate societies. Males within the society tend to develop their rank or status from his mother (Best 2009).
Bonobos also operate in a fission-fusion manner. Their community sizes will tend to vary because of this. Approximately 100 bonobos or more will separate into smaller groups throughout the day to gather food, but at the end of the day, come together as a community to sleep. They rest and sleep in nests that they build between trees. (White 1996).
Popularly known for the social-sexual behavior, bonobos engage in sexual activity often. Some scientists perceive bonobo sexual interactions as greetings, or a means of growing closer, building social bonds. Bonobos have been seen performing and engaging in sexual activities that other non-humans do not do, including: genital sex, oral sex, and tongue kissing (Williams 2004).
Having permanent monogamous relationships between individual partners is not in the nature of bonobos. There is also no sense of discrimination when choosing their sex partners in relation to age or sex, except between mother-son relationships. Scientists have documented how engaging in sexual activity relieves tension and stress within the society and particularly to calm down increased excitement (Williams 2004).