Bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Photograph by Leon Haberkorn

What are Bonobos?

Bonobos, Pan paniscus, are great apes that are closely related to chimpanzees and humans! They look very similar to chimpanzees, but they differ in size. Bonobos are slightly smaller and leaner than their chimpanzee relatives. Although primarily frugivorous, they also regularly eat vegetation and insects like termites, ants, and worms. Bonobos may occasionally eat fish and small mammals. Their habitat is limited to the equatorial forests south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in areas where Chengeta operates to protect wildlife.

Bonobo Social Structure: Female-Led and Less Aggressive

Bonobos differ from most primate species in their social structure, which is female-dominated and built on cooperation and sharing. They are also known to be less aggressive than many of their primate relatives, including humans and chimpanzees! One behavior that is unique to bonobos is genital rubbing, which helps maintain their social structure and reduce social tensions. Bonobos live in fission-fusion communities, meaning that smaller groups branch off and then later come back together to form a larger community depending on resource availability. On average, a community of bonobos can range in size between 30 and 80 individuals.

Threats to Bonobos in the Wild

Bonobos are classified as Endangered on the Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2012), and the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) includes them in Appendix I. Habitat destruction and poaching are the most imminent threats to bonobo populations in the wild. Political instability and civil conflicts in the DRC have dramatically increased threats to this species and make conservation efforts challenging. There remains a lot that is unknown about wild bonobo populations in the DRC, but research shows that populations have been in major decline over the past three decades.

Conservation Efforts For Bonobos

Conservation organizations that work in DRC where bonobos are found, like Chengeta Wildlife, contribute to conservation efforts through active community engagement and ecoguard training to protect endangered wildlife, including bonobos. While ecological research and conservation efforts can be complicated due to ongoing civil conflict in the DRC, NGOs, wildlife sanctuaries, and education programs in the DRC are making great efforts to protect this amazing species and conserve local habitat. To learn more about bonobos and local conservation efforts, please visit Friends of Bonobos at

bonobo eating

Photograph by Leon Haberkorn