BOOKS: Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:
The Forgotten Ape
Text by Franz de Waal.
Photos by Franz Lanting.
University of California Press (2120 Berkeley
Way, Berkeley, CA 94720), 1997.
“With this book,” wrote Meredith Small
in a prepublication blurb, “de Waal and Lanting
ask us to give bonobos their due––to be considered
alongside the better-known common chimpanzee
as close human cousins. How nice to have the
peaceable, sexy bonobo added to the path of
human evolution! Bonobos represent the silver
lining in our ape heritage.”
Small is author of What’s Love Got to
Do With It? The Evolution of Human Mating.
Bonobos are the equally tall but slimmer creatures
also known as pygmy chimps, who walk erect
instead of knuckle-walking, inhabit a matriarchal
society unique among the great apes, are strict
vegetarians unlike the aggressively hunting
chimps, do not commit fratricide and infanticide,
and avert conflict with ubiquitous sexual behavior,
not to be confused with consumated copulation.
A case can be made that the love-and-sex
relationships of bonobos and chimps are equally
active and complex, in light of recent genetic
research which has established that approximately
70% of young chimps are sired by males other than
those who ostensibly dominate their mothers’
tribes: while the dominant apes hunt and fight, as
much to impress other males as the females, the
purportedly lesser males sneak back to make their
own impression. But chimp sex is strictly male-tofemale,
and usually in a hurry, frequently furtive,
obtained only after much exercise of both strategm
and physical force. Bonobo sex is mostly foreplay,
leisurely more often than fast, involving all but
immediately incestuous combinations of
male/female, female/female, and male/male.
Instead of jealous squabbling, they tend to take
turns with preferred partners. Their notorious lack
of modesty explains why they are almost never
found in zoos.
It also explains why Bonobo: The
Forgotten Ape may not get into many libraries.
The text is as informed and scholarly as one would
expect of the University of California Press. The
photos are a kama sutra of simian sensuality, as
explicit as anything ever published by T h e
Berkeley Barb, the tabloid that 30-odd years ago
mingled commercialized “free love” with radical
politics to spark the so-called sexual revolution.
That was rather chimp-like. Bonobos would have
been across the Bay in San Francisco, enjoying the
Summer of Love.