Are we underestimating the frequency at which bonobos choose to devour meat? It might seem like a stretch, but according to the results of a study just recently published in the journal Folia Primatologica, it certainly seems to be so.
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An international team of researchers led by the University of Oregon spent approximately six months exploring the Lomako Forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017, and while they were out on their excursion, they learned that bonobos eat meat just as frequently as the common chimpanzee.
"Bonobos are a type of chimpanzee, and we are continuing to assess the differences between these different species," explained Colin Brand, a co-author of the study. "We are finding a lot of similarities and some key differences. Meat-eating seems to be a similar behavior of both species in terms of the rate at which they do it."
Bonobos differ from the common chimpanzee in several ways, including their behavior, natural distribution, and physical characteristics, but it now seems that they might have more in common than previously thought.
Being that bonobos are female-dominated and endemic to the Lomako Forest, it has long been assumed that the species prefers an herbivorous diet over a carnivorous one. On the other hand, the researchers witnessed bonobos eating meat almost as frequently as common chimpanzees, which differ in that they’re male-dominated and exist throughout Africa.
Scientists have known for quite some time that bonobos will eat birds and monkeys, among other things, but they simply didn’t think it was as regular of an occurrence for bonobos as it was in the common chimpanzee. The researchers were pleasantly surprised, however.
As it would seem, Weyn’s duikers are one of the bonobos’ favorite snacks, and females dominate the carcass. The researchers noticed that the females didn’t like it very much when males tried to get in on the feeding; they became aggressive toward adult males, only permitting younger males to feed on the kill.
"People often think of bonobos as hippy apes, that they make love, not war," said another of the study’s co-authors Frances White. "That's fine at some level, but it also is a gross miscategorization. In general, it doesn't pay to be aggressive for bonobos, but when it does, they can be just as aggressive as chimps."
White went on to explain that bonobo behavior and feeding activities depends on the location, as food availability differs from one region to the next and hungry bonobos are certain to be opportunistic. Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that bonobos aren’t calm alternatives to common chimpanzees, but instead, they’re just as aggressive, if not more so, when the time is right.
Given all the misconceptions that seem to exist regarding bonobos, the findings should be an excellent motivator for future studies intending to delve into their behavioral characteristics. Who knows; perhaps we’ll learn something new about the species that we don’t already know.