Frans de Waal - Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape

'French-kissing' is totally absent in the chimpanzee, which engages in rather platonic kisses. This explains why a new zookeeper familiar with chimpanzees once accepted a kiss from a male bonobo. Was he taken aback when he suddenly felt the ape's tongue in his mouth! (p. 103)
Loaded with beautiful color photographs and descriptions of one of the most interesting species on the planet, Bonobo is an essential book for anyone even remotely interested in primates. If you don't mind visitors to your house looking at pictures of distant relatives in various sexual positions then it will also make a great coffee table book!

I had previously read Richard Dawkins' critique of de Waal which made me think the book would be filled with 'bad science'. Although Dawkins claims and/or alludes to various scientific weaknesses in Good Natured, none of those appeared here. In fact, if what Dawkins says is true about his previous work, de Waal has done a complete about face in this one (with regard to bonobos being claimed to be more closely related to us then chimpanzees and bonobos somehow being human role models). It is interesting that both de Waal and Dawkins criticize Margaret Mead based on the unbalanced work of Derek Freeman while completely ignoring the more fair treatments such as that given by Hal Hellman.

One of the main themes of Bonobo is the parent-offspring relationship in primates. In particular, de Waal tests the waters with his evolutionary scenario as to why infanticide gets started or is reduced (in the case of bonobos) based on the family and social relationships. In a nutshell, de Waal believes that female dominance and obscured paternity are the two key elements to reduced infanticide. There are numerous other factors that lead up to the female's position and paternity issues--the discussion of which is very interesting.

I have only a couple suggestions regarding the text. Occasionally, especially in later chapters, the dialogue becomes repetitive. It almost seems as if more words are added just to keep the picture/text ratio in tact rather than to illuminate new features of the bonobo. Also, it would be very interesting to hear what happens when (if?) bonobos are socialized with chimpanzees. I realize this probably doesn't happen in the wild due to the Zaire River, but does it happen in captivity? If it does or if it has been tried (on purpose or accidentally) in the past it would present interesting findings towards the nurture vs. nature debate. Would chimp and/or bonobo behavior change (more closely resembling each other's)? Would the bonobos be as sexual with chimps as they are with each other? Would they be able to produce offspring? If so, would the hybrid be fertile? These kinds of questions are not discussed, but the answers would be fascinating. Perhaps bonobos haven't had any contact with chimps in captivity since they were discovered to be a separate species early in the 20th Century.

Bonobo is a pleasure to read. My three- and one-year olds both love the pictures too. Whatever your age, you will likely find the pictures and the lives of these apes intriguing.

from the publisher:

"Here at last is a book that will give the fourth great ape the visibility that this wonderful species deserves. You will learn that bonobos are not just 'little' chimpanzees, but are every bit as different from chimpanzees as chimpanzees are from gorillas. If you care about the great apes, this book, with its superb photographs and vivid text, is a must." --Jane Goodall
"Not since the publication of Jane Goodall's field research on chimpanzees, In the Shadow of Man, has a book on infra-human primates appeared with the potential to truly startle and broaden our thinking." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Introduce[s] the popular audience to this long-lost cousin of humanity. And what a fine introduction it is! De Waal . . . writes in a conversational style that shows respect for the animals as well as real affection. . . . Lanting's photographs, many from the field, highlight some of de Waal's major points: bonobos not only look like people, they often act like people and form humanlike relationships. . . . Bonobo is a delightful romp in the world of another species and a pleasant consciousness-raising session about our closest evolutionary relatives." --Meredith Small, The Sciences
"Exciting, amusing, and beautiful." --Alison Jolly, International Journal of Primatology
This remarkable primate with the curious name is challenging established views on human evolution. The bonobo, least known of the great apes, is a female-centered, egalitarian species that has been dubbed the "make-love-not-war" primate by specialists. In bonobo society, females form alliances to intimidate males, sexual behavior (in virtually every partner combination) replaces aggression and serves many social functions, and unrelated groups mingle instead of fighting. The species's most striking achievement is not tool use or warfare but sensitivity to others.

In the first book to combine and compare data from captivity and the field, Frans de Waal, a world-renowned primatologist, and Frans Lanting, an internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer, present the most up-to-date perspective available on the bonobo. Focusing on social organization, de Waal compares the bonobo with its better-known relative, the chimpanzee. The bonobo's relatively nonviolent behavior and the tendency for females to dominate males confront the evolutionary models derived from observing the chimpanzee's male power politics, cooperative hunting, and intergroup warfare. Further, the bonobo's frequent, imaginative sexual contacts, along with its low reproduction rate, belie any notion that the sole natural purpose of sex is procreation. Humans share over 98 percent of their genetic material with the bonobo and the chimpanzee--is it possible that the peaceable bonobo has retained traits of our common ancestor that we find hard to recognize in ourselves?

Eight superb full-color photo essays offer a rare view of the bonobo in its native habitat in the rain forests of Zaire as well as in zoos and research facilities. Additional photographs and highlighted interviews with leading bonobo experts complement the text. This book points the way to viable alternatives to male-based models of human evolution and will add considerably to debates on the origin of our species. Anyone interested in primates, gender issues, evolutionary psychology, and exceptional wildlife photography will find a fascinating companion in Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape.

"Bonobo provides a tantalizing introduction into the natural history of one of our closest living relatives and uniquely enhances our understanding of our own place in Nature. Anyone who has the pleasure of reading this book will come away with deeper insights into why we humans behave the way we do. We should not be afraid of acknowledging the Bonobo in all of us." --Don Johanson, Director, Institute of Human Origins

"With this book, de Waal and Lanting ask us to give bonobos their due--to be considered along side the better known common chimpanzee as close human cousins. How nice to have the peaceable, sexy, bonobo added to the path of human evolution! Bonobos represent the silver lining in our ape heritage." --Meredith Small, author of What's Love Got to Do With It? The Evolution of Human Mating

"As a chronicler of natural history today, Frans Lanting is a singular, extraordinary talent. He has the mind of a scientist, the heart of a hunter, and the eyes of a poet. He is as persistent, adaptable, and hard as the wild creatures he observes. His bonobo photographs bring us face-to-face with a group of highly endangered apes. Eerily, aspects of their behavior mirror our own." --Thomas R. Kennedy, Director of Photography, National Geographic Society

Frans de Waal is C.H. Candler Professor of Primate Behavior and Director, Living Links Center, Emory University. He is the author of several books, including Chimpanzee Politics (1982) and Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (1996). Frans Lanting is one of the world's leading nature photographers and the recipient of many prestigious awards. His work appears regularly in National Geographic, Life, and other magazines. His books include Okavango: Africa's Last Eden (1993), Eye to Eye (1997), and Forgotten Edens (1993).

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS writes -- Call them the sexy apes. Or the feminist apes. Or the gentle apes.

But for some scientists, they can be downright inconvenient apes -- because the little-known bonobo is hurting theories that human behavior evolved from warlike, male-dominated chimps.

Bonobos are just as related to people as are chimps. But the females are clearly in charge. They're peaceful. More intriguing: They have sex all the time, not to procreate but to settle conflict or get to know each other -- and unlike other animals, they have it face-to-face with some French kissing thrown in.

"We may be more bonobo-like than we want to admit," says Frans de Waal, a primatologist at the Yerkes Regional Primate Center whose new book, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, is one of the first major works on the rare species.

De Waal sees the roots of cognition in a bonobo named Kakowet, who spotted zookeepers turning on water valves and realized they would flood a nearby moat where infant apes were playing. Kakowet warned the zookeeper and helped rescue the babies.

The ability to view the world from someone else's perspective -- in this case, to realize the babies would be in the path of rushing water and cannot swim -- is advanced thinking once thought unique to humans, de Waal said.

The nation's largest primate research center is bringing together neuroscientists, geneticists and behavior experts to shed new light on human evolution: Using our closest living relatives -- the apes -- to explain how human cognition and behavior evolved.

"By understanding chimps, maybe we'll understand ourselves a wee bit better," explained Tom Insel, chief of the Yerkes Regional Primate Center, which is setting up the Living Links project on human evolution.

One chief project will be identifying ape genes to match with the neurologic and behavior findings. Human DNA is 98.4 percent identical to the DNA of chimps and bonobos.

"What is it in that other 1.6 percent that makes us different from them? That's the critical question," said de Waal.

Bonobos live in just one remote corner of the world, the deep rainforests of Congo. Scientists didn't begin seriously studying them until the 1970s. Fewer than 100 are in captivity. There's no word yet on how well they survived last year's bloody civil war in Congo -- Japanese experts only recently ventured back into the bush.

Bonobos have smaller heads, slimmer necks and longer legs than chimps, and a more humanlike posture. They're rather stylish, with red lips and distinctive black hair parted down the middle.

Females are only 85 percent as big as males, yet they band together to take charge. Females leave their original group when they're grown, migrating into new bonobo societies where they bond with other females to establish a spot in the hierarchy.

Unlike chimps, female bonobos control choice food: Males hang around the periphery until they're offered a bite. A male's rank depends on his mother's social standing.

Chimps often fight viciously, especially with strangers, even taking over territory by killing the adult males. Bonobos rarely fight. Videos of groups meeting in the wild show them nervous and shrieking but not physically attacking. Gradually, the females approach each other and initiate cautious sexual contact.

And sex among bonobos is reminiscent of the Kamasutra. It's not just male-female -- they have same-gender sex, oral sex, masturbation, group sex. Like humans, they have face-to-face intercourse, making scientists wonder if they're more emotionally intimate than other animals. In zoos, the average bonobo initiates sexual contact every 1 1/2 hours.

Why? De Waal says Bonobos basically resolve power issues with sex: It eases conflict, signals friendliness and calms stressful situations.