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Bonobo: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Welcome to the fascinating world of bonobos, one of humanity’s closest relatives sharing over 98% of our DNA. Often overshadowed by their more famous cousins, the chimpanzees, bonobos are equally intriguing and vital to our understanding of primate behavior and evolution.

This article serves as a comprehensive fact sheet that dives deep into the unique traits, behaviors, and challenges that define this extraordinary species.

The Bonobo at a Glance


Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Species:Pan paniscus

Essential Information

Average Size:28 to 33 inches (71 to 83 cm)
Average Weight:Males: 86 lbs (39 kg), Females: 68 lbs (31 kg)
Average Lifespan:40 years in the wild, up to 60 in captivity
Geographical Range:Democratic Republic of the Congo
Conservation Status:Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

Bonobos are a singular species within the genus Pan, and unlike their chimpanzee cousins, they don’t have subspecies. They are most closely related to the Common Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), but the two species differ considerably in behavior, morphology, and other biological aspects.

The separation is believed to have occurred nearly 1 to 2 million years ago, possibly due to the formation of the Congo River, which now serves as a natural barrier between the habitats of bonobos and common chimpanzees.

Bonobo eating


Bonobos are medium-sized primates with a slim build, relatively long legs, and a black face. They have a prominent brow ridge and ears that are smaller and rounder compared to common chimpanzees.

Their hair is generally black but can vary in length and thickness depending on age and region. One of the most distinctive features is their posture; bonobos can walk bipedally more efficiently than common chimpanzees, thanks in part to their longer legs.

In terms of anatomy, bonobos have slightly smaller skulls and less prominent muzzles than common chimpanzees. Their dental formula is also similar to that of humans.

Sexual dimorphism is present but not overly pronounced. Males are generally larger, weighing around 86 pounds (39 kg) and measuring 31-33 inches (79-83 cm) in height, whereas females average around 68 pounds (31 kg) and 28-31 inches (71-79 cm) in height.

Habitat and Distribution

Bonobos are restricted to the rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Central Africa. They mainly inhabit lowland rainforests but can also be found in swamp forests, bamboo forests, and agricultural areas.

Unlike common chimpanzees, bonobos are not found in any savannah or dry woodland habitats. Their entire range is south of the Congo River, which acts as a natural barrier separating them from the habitats of common chimpanzees.

Group of bonobos


Bonobos are diurnal creatures, active during the daytime. They are highly social and live in matriarchal groups typically consisting of 30 to 80 individuals. These groups have complex social hierarchies where females often have higher social ranks, in contrast to the male-dominated societies observed in common chimpanzees.

Communication among bonobos is rich and involves a combination of vocalizations, gestures, and facial expressions. They also practice grooming to establish and maintain social bonds.

Unique to bonobos is the frequency and variety of sociosexual behaviors they display, which serve not only for reproduction but also for social bonding, conflict resolution, and stress relief.

Bonobos are highly intelligent and have been observed using basic tools for various tasks such as foraging and grooming. They are known for their empathy, cooperation, and altruistic behaviors, some of which have been considered to be unparalleled except in humans.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Bonobos are primarily frugivores, with fruits making up about 60% of their diet. However, they are omnivorous in nature and will consume a wide range of food items when available.

These can include leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, honey, and small animals such as insects and small vertebrates. Unlike common chimpanzees, bonobos are less likely to hunt other primates. They forage collectively and food sharing is common, especially among females.

The feeding behavior of bonobos is more opportunistic and less aggressive compared to common chimpanzees. They will often climb trees to reach fruits and will use their hands and feet in a coordinated manner to gather and handle food.


Being medium-sized primates, adult bonobos have fewer natural predators, but they are not entirely free from threats. Leopards are known to be a potential predator, along with humans who hunt them for bushmeat.

Young bonobos are more susceptible and can fall victim to birds of prey like eagles. However, the social nature and intelligence of bonobos often allow them to detect and deter predators effectively.

Baby bonobo

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Bonobos have a relatively flexible mating system. Unlike common chimpanzees, where males often exert a lot of control over the females, bonobo females have a greater say in mate selection.

This leads to a less aggressive and more cooperative breeding culture. Females give birth to a single offspring after a gestation period of about 240 days (8 months).

Infant care is primarily the responsibility of the mother, but other females in the group will also “babysit,” especially if they are related. Young bonobos are weaned at about 4 years of age, which is also when they start to become more independent.

However, they usually stay with their natal group until they reach sexual maturity at around 9 to 13 years of age for females and a bit later for males.

Conservation and Threats

The bonobo is currently listed as an “Endangered” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their habitat in the Congo Basin is under threat from logging, agricultural expansion, and human settlement.

Bushmeat hunting also poses a significant risk. Various conservation efforts are underway, including the establishment of protected areas and sanctuaries like the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Efforts are also being made to involve local communities in conservation activities, providing them with sustainable alternatives to hunting and deforestation. International organizations are working in collaboration with local authorities to monitor populations and protect habitats.

Fun Facts

  1. Peacemakers: Bonobos are known for their peaceful and cooperative social structures, often resolving conflicts through grooming and sexual activities rather than aggression.
  2. Tool Use: While not as prolific tool users as common chimpanzees, bonobos have been observed using tools for various purposes, including foraging and personal care.
  3. Strong Female Bonds: Unlike many other primate species, female bonobos form the core of the social group.
  4. Bipedal Walking: Bonobos can walk on two legs more easily and for longer periods than common chimpanzees, although they usually move on all fours.
  5. Vocal Communication: Bonobos have a wide range of vocalizations and are capable of a more complex “language” of sounds compared to other non-human primates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are bonobos less aggressive than common chimpanzees?

Bonobos have a matriarchal society and often resolve conflicts through grooming and sexual behaviors. This results in less aggression compared to common chimpanzees, who have a male-dominated hierarchy.

Do bonobos mate for life?

Bonobos do not have exclusive, long-term mating partnerships. Their mating culture is more flexible and communal.

What do bonobos eat?

Bonobos primarily eat fruits but are omnivores and will also consume leaves, flowers, bark, and even small animals when available.

How smart are bonobos?

Bonobos are highly intelligent and display a wide range of behaviors indicating problem-solving abilities, self-awareness, and even empathy.

Are bonobos endangered?

Yes, bonobos are listed as “Endangered” by the IUCN. They face threats from habitat loss and hunting.

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