From Thu Jun 19 14:18:44 1997
Date: Thu, 19 Jun 1997 10:34:58 -0500 (CDT)
From: Larry Jacobsen 
Subject: [PT] Frans De Waal

(from [ Larry Jacobsen ])


PRIMATE-TALK OCCASIONAL REPORTS:  From time to time we post
short articles of general interest to net members.  In most cases
these are repostings of previously published material, but
original submissions are welcome.  Send suggestions for suitable
items to repost to Larry Jacobsen, P-T Coordinator, Wisconsin
Regional Primate Research Center, email:


                    Copyright 1997 Chicago Tribune Company       
                             Chicago Tribune                     
                June 15, 1997 Sunday, CHICAGOLAND FINAL EDITION  

BYLINE: By Jeremy Manier, Tribune staff writer.                  

   Frans  de Waal  has devoted his career to studying how primates
cooperate and reconcile, rather than fight. Now, he is worried
about one of the endangered innocents of the recent civil war in
the Congo--the bonobo, a rare subspecies of chimpanzee that is
perhaps the animal most closely related to humans. Loss of the
gentle and surprisingly affectionate bonobo--only 5,000
remain--would be a tragedy, says  de Waal,  because studies of the
animal could lead to a revised view of the origins of human nature. 
   The best-selling author lives in Atlanta and works at the
government's Yerkes Regional Primate Center and Emory University. 
   Q: What makes bonobos worth studying?                         
   A: Two things are very special about the bonobo: Their passion
for non-reproductive sex and the social functions of sex in their
society. Bonobos  make love, not war, and they make it all the time
and with everybody. There's  also an angle that appeals to
feminists because they're clearly a strongly female-dominated
species. Even though bonobos are just as close to us in      
evolutionary terms as common chimpanzees, very few people know
about them.
   Q: Besides being smaller and more humanlike in appearance, how
do bonobos differ from common chimpanzees?                       
   A: Chimps are known to sometimes have violent confrontations
when two groups  meet in the wild. Bonobos have never been observed
doing that.                   
   For bonobos in the wild and in captivity, 75 percent of sex has
nothing to do with reproduction. There's sex between females,
between males, with juveniles.  Sex is used primarily at moments
of tension or competition. If they find food, instead of competing,
they have a flurry of sexual activity that turns into sharing.   
   Q: What do you mean by a female-dominated species and why is
that important?  

   A: Essentially, dominance is about pecking order--who gets the
first shot at food? With both common chimps and bonobos, the males
stay home and the females move away to other groups at puberty. In
the case of common chimps, the female always seeks protection of
the males, because entering a different territory is 
always a dangerous business.                                     
   Bonobos take a completely different approach. The migrating
female seeks contact with the senior female in her new group, and
after a lot of sex between the two, she may get adopted as a sort
of younger sister. That's why I call this relationship a "secondary
sisterhood." The females aren't related, but the bonding between
them is so strong that they manage to dominate the males. All   
the bonobo colonies we have in captivity are led by females--the
largest, incidentally, is at the Milwaukee County Zoo.           
   Q: It seems odd that this social arrangement evolved in bonobos
but not in common chimpanzees, or apparently, in humans. How does
it fit into bonobos'evolutionary story?                          
   A: I think it evolved as a way of preventing infanticide. In
many animal species, infanticide is committed by males, presumably
to promote their own reproduction. If the female a male is having
sex with gets pregnant by someone else, infant growth and
development is so slow that he may have to wait five years to
impregnate her. But if the male eliminates the infant, he stands
a better chance of having offspring. This doesn't just happen in
chimps; lions and bears do it, so do ground squirrels and mice.
Many scientists also include humans as an infanticidal species.  
   What the female bonobos are doing might be construed as an
anti-infanticidal strategy.                                      
   Since the females have sex frequently with many different males,
a male bonobo needs to be a genius to know who his offspring are.
In that case, the whole strategy of infanticide becomes
counterproductive, because you never know whose kid you're
killing--it could be yours. So you don't kill any of them.     

   Q: And the role of female dominance?                          

   A: Female dominance comes into this picture with the sexual
bonding that they have. If a male ever attempted to kill an infant,
he would get in deep trouble because all the females would gang up
on him.                                   

   Q: How similar are bonobos to people in terms of their other
sexual habits?  For example, do they have orgasms?               
   A: Yes, bonobos have many of the same responses to sex that
humans do. In the 50s, scientists thought that we were the only
species that had orgasms.  But in the lab, people have found
heart-rate increases and uterine contractions in female monkeys
that fit our physiological definition of orgasm.                 
   It also used to be thought that we were the only species that
had face-to-face sex--the so-called "missionary position." It was
actually considered to be a Western cultural innovation, and
knowing it, we naturally had to teach other people, hence the term,
"missionary." Well, in bonobos, as in all humans, the female
genitalia are frontally oriented, which allows them to have 
face-to-face sex. It's no big deal.                              

   Q: Do some bonobos tend to have more same-sex encounters than
others? Are there gay bonobos?                                   
   A: There's never an exclusive orientation as far as I know. The
terms heterosexual and homosexual don't really apply to the bonobo.
Those are cultural labels we use to pigeonhole people. Bonobos are
all pan-sexual: They have a very broad use of sex. There's no such
thing as a bonobo without sex.                
   Q: So, what might it tell us about the common ancestor believed
to have given rise to both us and bonobos?                       
   A: The bonobos show us that nonreproductive sex is very common
in our lineage and probably natural in our species as well. People
who claim sex is intended only for reproduction don't have any
support, if you consider the rest of the primates, and bonobos in
   Q: A lot of evolutionary biologists are cautious about drawing
inferences about human psychology from the way other species
behave. What lessons do you think we can take from the bonobo?   

   A: Imagine we didn't know anything about baboons, a fairly
aggressive species that was the model for our own evolution before
chimpanzees, and suppose we didn't know anything about chimpanzees,
either. But suppose we'd gotten to know bonobos very well. How
different would our evolutionary scenario be today?      
   Instead of seeing ourselves as killer apes, we might have
emphasized female bonding more.                                  

   Q: Are you troubled by the possibility that people may find the
bonobo appealing just because it falls in line with society's
current values?          

   A: People who say the bonobo is just like our common ancestor
are engaging in wishful thinking. The bonobo comes out as a
politically correct primate.        
   Q: Is the picture so wrong?                                   
   A: If bonobos stimulate a new look at the common ancestor, even
if it's from an extremely biased perspective, that's fine as long
as it leads to rigorous science.                                 
   We'll never know for sure what our common ancestor was like
unless we have time machines. But we're starting to get a more
complete picture now.           

---   An edited transcript