The last bonobos on the planet

There are no precise data on the bonobo population, but the estimate is between 29,500 and 50,000 individuals

by Lorenzo Ciotti
The last bonobos on the planet

The bonobo is distinguished from the chimpanzee by its relatively long legs, pink lips, dark face, slightly lighter weight, and tufts of hair on the top of its head. The bonobo is found in a 190,000 sq mi area of the Congo River Basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central Africa.

The species is omnivorous and inhabits primary and secondary forests, including seasonally flooded swamp forests. Due to the political instability in the region and the bonobos' shyness, little fieldwork has been done to observe the species in its natural habitat.

Along with the common chimpanzee, the bonobo is the closest extant species evolutionarily to humans. There are no precise data on the bonobo population, but the estimate is between 29,500 and 50,000 individuals. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and is threatened by habitat destruction and human population growth in the area, although commercial poaching is the heaviest threat to these animals.

Bonobos typically live 40 years in captivity, while their lifespan in the wild is unknown, but almost certainly much shorter. Bonobos have a discontinuous range in the rainforests south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ranging from the Lualaba River in the east, Lakes Tumba and Mai-Ndombe in the west, and the Kasai River in the south.

The natural habitat of the bonobos are the rainforests of central Africa, usually between 300 and 700 meters above sea level, with a stable warm-humid climate, formed by a mosaic of primary and secondary forest.

The last bonobos on the planet

The decline in the total bonobo population is estimated to be greater than 50% over a 75-year period.

Bonobos reproduce slowly, which makes them particularly sensitive to any threats to survival. The greatest dangers for this species derive from the exploitation and consequent destruction of the habitat for human activities, and from hunting for the bushmeat market.

During the wars of the 1990s, researchers and international non-governmental organizations were driven out of bonobo habitat. In 2002, the Bonobo Conservation Initiative initiated the Bonobo Peace Forest Project, supported by the Global Conservation Fund of Conservation International in collaboration with national institutions, local NGOs and local communities.

The bonobo population is believed to have declined dramatically over the past 30 years, although surveys have been difficult to carry out in war-torn central Congo. Estimates range from 60,000 to fewer than 50,000 individuals, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

In addition, stakeholders addressed several crises on various scientific and ecological websites. Organizations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature, the African Wildlife Foundation and others are trying to focus attention on the extreme risk to the species.

Some have suggested setting up a reserve in a more stable part of Africa, or on an island in a place like Indonesia. Awareness is continually growing and even non-scientific or ecological sites have created various groups to collect donations to help the conservation of this species.