December 03, 2018

Reflections on Our Closest Living Relatives and Ourselves: Lessons from the Bonobo Sisterhood

Amy Parish, University of Southern California

"Oooooh, I want to be like youuuu, ...walk like you, talk like you, tooooo." So goes the lament of Louie, the Orangutan King in “The Jungle Book”. He wishes he could be like a human. In contrast, Mogli, the human boy in the movie, thinks of himself as just one of many types of forest animal. The movie represents a conflict in humanity's search for self-identity. What really separates "man" from "animal", if indeed there is such a separation? We are desperate to know. Approximately 200 species including humans belong to the Primate mammalian order. Like all animals, they are faced with the problems of how to survive, breed and rear offspring. The mating behavior of the apes is particularly complex and fascinating. Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) societies are typically characterized as physically aggressive, male-bonded and male-dominated. Their close relatives, the bonobos (Pan paniscus), differ in fascinating and significant ways. For instance, female bonobos bond with one another, form coalitions, and dominate males. Both species are equally "man's" closest relative. How do these findings change our views of our evolution and ourselves? This talk explores the sexual and social behavior of one of our closest living relatives: the bonobo.

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