Bonobos vs. Common Chimpanzees

There are two species of the genus Pan of chimpanzees:  one is bonobo, Pan paniscus, and the other is the common chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.  The bonobo and common chimpanzee were separated by the Congo River in Africa, and they actually evolved into two distinct species.  These monkeys were not very good swimmers, so the bonobos lived on the southern side of the river, while the common chimpanzees lived on the northern side.

The bonobos are a very peaceful species, while the common chimpanzees are very aggressive.  Humans are related to the common chimpanzees, so some scientists believe that Homo sapiens inherited our aggression from the Pan troglodytes.

During scientific experiments, the bonobos who have been provided food will open doors for other bonobos to ensure that they all share the same meals, while common chimpanzees are genetically predisposed to protecting their own interests and will aggressively fight others who attempt to take their food.

It is interesting that the bonobos are down to a population of somewhere between 29,500 to about 50,000 and are on the Endangered species list.  Even though some of this reduction in species is because of habitat destruction and hunting by our species, it may also be because of the timidity in its genes.

The bonobo and common chimpanzee species separated about a million years ago, and Homo sapiens branched out from the common chimpanzee side.  Recent genome analysis shows that the common chimpanzee is our closest living relative.

The bonobos are recognized as being capable of “altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity” by primatologist Frans de Waal, who studied them in captivity for many years.  Most studies indicate that bonobos have matriarchal behaviors.  The females seem to have a higher social status, and the males derive their status from their mothers.  The males are less aggressive in their roles.  In short, bonobos are similar to the hippies of the 1960’s and 1970’s in that they have communal sexual activity that seems to decrease tension.  They also are known to share their food in communal style living.  Their sexual activity is not monogamous and is not limited to one gender.  They have no self-imposed restrictions on having same gender sex.

De Waal describes the bonobos as extraordinarily peaceful, and he documented how the species resolves conflicts with sexual contact which has given the monkey a famous hippie saying, “make love, not war.”  Scientists noticed social mingling occurs, in which members of different communities have sex and groom each other, behavior which is unheard of among common chimpanzees.

It is interesting to note that recent studies appear to show that there are significant brain differences between bonobos and common chimps.  The brains of bonobos are more developed with larger regions that may be developed for the feelings of empathy and in sensing distress in others, which may make them less aggressive and more empathic than the common chimpanzees.

The aggressive gene, appear to be a dominant force in survival for not only the common chimpanzees, but also for most of the other primates, including Homo sapiens.  However, it will be interesting to see if this holds true as our species becomes more dominant and overpopulates our world.  Currently, the population of humans is about 7.24 billion, and scientists predict that we will be at about 8 billion by 2024.

Some believe that this is like packing more gunpowder into a powder keg.  Eventually, it will explode in a very self-destructive manner.  It is quite likely that man’s aggressive heredity was important in survival when our numbers were down to perhaps a thousand after Mount Toba, a super-volcano, exploded about 74,000 years ago, creating an ice age that nearly wiped out our species.  This is probably why Homo sapiens have little diversity in its genetics.

It would be quite anthropocentric of us to claim that we are a superior species and are God’s chosen one since we have only been around a short period of time on a geologic scale.  We might boast that we have done a remarkable job in overpopulating the earth, but that is a specious species claim.  We could legitimately argue that our propensity for aggression was helpful when we were on the ropes with only about a thousand of us in the world, but that aggression may be our downfall as we reach the 8 billion mark.  It does not take a genetic scientist to predict the outcome of having too many aggressive animals in one cage.

You may think that I am arguing that we would have been a better species if we had come from the bonobos rather than the common chimpanzees, but that is not even close to the truth.  Quite frankly if we had come from the bonobo family, we probably would not have made it much past the Mt. Toba eruption.  It was probably our fierce aggressive spirit that kept us going and saved our species.  In other words, if we all joined the ranks of the drug-induced passive world of the hippies, we would eventually be wiped out, either by a more aggressive species or those Homo sapiens who did not become hippies.

All I am saying is that this aggression could also be our undoing as we overpopulate the world.  It is only a matter of time before a highly aggressive group like a terrorist organization obtains nuclear capability and is not afraid to use it, even if it is self destructive.  Humans have now reached the pinnacle of aggression, so that we are ready to die as long as we can kill others in the process.  Suicide nuclear or biological bombers could be the next step.  If we can set off enough nuclear weapons, we could create a nuclear winter, much like Mt. Toba did 74,000 years ago.

But I believe our species is aggressive enough that if a thousand of us survive the nuclear holocaust or biological weapon release, whichever occurs first, that a hearty group will fight back in an effort to repopulate the earth again.  But don’t ask me if we deserve to rule the world again.