The most detailed range-wide assessment of the bonobo (formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee) ever conducted has revealed that this poorly known and endangered great ape is quickly losing space in a world with growing human populations. The loss of usable habitat is attributed to both forest fragmentation and poaching, according to a new study by University of Georgia, University of Maryland, the Wildlife Conservation Society, ICCN (Congolese Wildlife Authority), African Wildlife Foundation, Zoological Society of Milwaukee, World Wildlife Fund, Max Planck Institute, Lukuru Foundation, University of Stirling, Kyoto University, and other groups.
Using data from nest counts and remote sensing imagery, the research team found that the bonobo— one of humankind’s closest living relatives —avoids areas of high human activity and forest fragmentation. As little as 28 percent of the bonobo’s range remains suitable, according to the model developed by the researchers in the study, which now appears in the December edition of Biodiversity and Conservation.
"This assessment is a major step towards addressing the substantial information gap regarding the conservation status of bonobos across their entire range," said lead author Dr. Jena R. Hickey of Cornell University and the University of Georgia. "The results of the study demonstrate that human activities reduce the amount of effective bonobo habitat and will help us identify where to propose future protected areas for this great ape."
"For bonobos to survive over the next 100 years or longer, it is extremely important that we understand the extent of their range, their distribution, and drivers of that distribution so that conservation actions can be targeted in the most effective way and achieve the desired results," said Ashley Vosper of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Bonobos are probably the least understood great ape in Africa, so this paper is pivotal in increasing our knowledge and understanding of this beautiful and charismatic animal."
The bonobo is smaller in size and more slender in build than the common chimpanzee. The great ape’s social structure is complex and matriarchal. Unlike the common chimpanzee, bonobos establish social bonds and diffuse tension or aggression with sexual behaviors. The entire range of the bonobo lies within the lowland forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and currently beset with warfare and insecurity.