Big (and little!) bonobo updates

Bonobos Peche and Violette
Violette (right), pictured with Peche, just had a baby

We have some news that’s sure to put a smile on your face—there are new baby bonobos in the Kokolopori Bonobo Reserve! In the Kokoalongo bonobo group, Kidjo gave birth in December and PJ in February. There’s also a new baby in the Ekalakala group, born to Violette. All mothers and juveniles are reportedly doing very well.

We know that birth announcements usually include the baby’s name and sex; however, bonobo mothers are very protective of their infants and it can be difficult to determine a juvenile’s gender until they gain a bit more independence. Our researchers and monitoring teams stick to strict protocols that are as respectful of the bonobos’ space as possible; the goal is to observe with minimal disruption. We will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more about the new arrivals.

The new babies aren’t the only exciting news from the field. The research team, led by Dr. Martin Surbeck of Harvard University, continues to discover more about our sister species all the time. Recently, members of the team published a fascinating paper in The American Journal of Primatology regarding tool use in bonobo groups. It has long been a point of curiosity that wild bonobos have not been observed to use tools nearly as much as chimpanzees do, despite the fact that both species have similar rates of tool use in captive settings. Learning how and why tool use emerges among great apes has implications not just for our understanding of bonobos and chimpanzees, but for our understanding of how tool use might have emerged in early hominins.

One of the team’s many interesting findings is that some bonobos use leaf umbrellas, where they fully remove a leaf or branch from a tree and drape it over their bodies to stay warmer and drier in the rain. Not all bonobos use them or use them the same way, however. Because the behavior is only habitual in some populations, it may be that adoption of leaf umbrellas is in fact cultural, meaning that it is a behavior gained through imitation and social learning. Humans are not the only animals who have cultural traditions!

So, will any of the new babies learn to use leaf umbrellas? Or will they exhibit new behaviors of their own? Stay tuned to our field updates to find out all this and more!

Sleeping baby bonobo surrounded by grooming adults
Young Pistache of the Ekalakala group will have a new playmate