Is it my imagination or do bonobos seem to be very popular these days? They’re the chimpanzee’s first cousin–a branch of apes that evolved from the gorilla about 7 million years ago, the other two branches being humans and chimps. Native to the north of the congo, these apes have only really been “discovered” and studied only in the last 100 years.
Their popularity has to do with their good nature, non aggressive behavior and their active sexual life. Watching a documentary of bonobos is a little disconcerting, it’s like watching a “Mr Peepers” skit from SNL, where Chris Kattan jumps frantically from table to chair, spitting out fruit and humping everything in site (though this may exaggerated in a zoo environment, seemingly from boredom, a few have speculated).
It’s interesting to compare bonobos to chimpanzees, the bonobos have smaller skulls and less of a brow, although their bodies are slightly smaller, they’re more elongated than chimps and they stand upright fairly often. The bonobo’s eyes seem more expressive and intelligent. and they’re also far less aggressive then chimps and ruled by a matriarchal society. A recent story in the New Yorker has an interesting article about them. Along with a nice photo spread by James Mollison.
In the article there’s a funny anecdote about a man named Yearkes who compares two species he had in captivity, a chimp, called Panzee and Chim, a bonobo. – the chimp Panzee was timid, dumb, and foul-tempered. “Her resentment and anger were readily aroused and she was quick to give them expression with hands and teeth,” Yerkes wrote. Chim (the bononbo) was a joy: equable and eager for new experiences. “Seldom daunted, he treated the mysteries of life as philosophically as any man.” Moreover, he was a “genius.
Some insane experiments were done in the 20s, where human sperm was injected into chimpanzees’ uteruses, needless to say it didn’t work but the result would be a “Humanzee , Chuman, or Manpanzee”, the latter sounds too much like marzipan, I tend to favor “Chuman” it sounds like a Victorian disease. Chumans might evolve like this if we’re lucky.