Studies of wild apes are fundamental to our understanding of humans and human evolution. Until recently, scientists have focused on the violent nature of male chimpanzees, the lack of close association among female chimpanzees, and inferred parallels with early human societies. Humans, however, have an equally close relative in the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee. Bonobo societies are based on peaceful cooperation and strong social bonds both between males and females and among females. Studies of bonobos in their natural habitat in the 1980s and early 1990s found that, unlike chimpanzees, bonobo communities are based on strong social ties among unrelated females and long-term bonding between individual males and females, especially adult sons and their mothers. Bonobo communities are also able to associate peacefully. Male bonobos do not form the tight bands that are associated with the male cooperative killing behavior of chimpanzees. Instead, bonobo aggression is mild. Disputes and social tensions are often diffused through sexual behavior. Our growing understanding of this important close relative was, however, interrupted by the political situation in central Africa. Found only in the tropical rain forests of Congo basin, the bonobo is the only ape confined to a single country: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Field studies stopped in the late 1990s and are only now possible again with returning political stability. In 2005, the PI returned to her long-term field site in the Lomako Forest of central DRC and found that both the national and local infrastructure were supportive of the return of this research. Despite difficulties and loss of bonobos at other sites, the Lomako Forest study bonobos remained habituated to observation by the PI and there was little disturbance of the study area. This proposal is to conduct a feasibility study for reestablishing fieldwork on bonobos in the Lomako Forest, DRC. This project will involve returning to the field site, contacting, identifying and observing both previous known and any new bonobos from the two communities that have been studied since the 1980s. This project will assess the feasibility of returning to this site for long-term studies using behavioral observation, ecological measurement, and GPS and GIS technologies to address key questions central to our understanding of the social differences between bonobos and chimpanzees.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jean E. Turnquist
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University of Oregon Eugene
United States
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