Bonobo Sexuality

Pan paniscus, or Bonobos, are an interesting species. They, as well as the Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), are our closest relatives and there is much that can be learned from them. Upon first hearing about this I was shocked to say so in the least because I had always thought that the chimpanzee was our closest relative and had not heard of there being any other. I had also never heard of anything with a silly name like bonobo; it sounded awfully close to the word “bozo” with an extra silly syllable and there was no way I was going to acknowledge being closely related to the “bozo.” Well, now you can consider me converted.

Despite being both of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and the bonobos, however, can behave very differently, especially when it comes to sexual behavior. Bonobos are somewhat known for their sexual behavior; you could say they are infamous for it. They have sex outside of their respective fertile periods, which really emphasizes the “interaction” of sexual interaction. It also often occurs with members of the same sex, not solely opposite sexes. Each and every bonobo group that has been observed, both through wild fieldwork as well as those observed in captivity, have exhibited what is known as genito-genital (GG) rubbing (Parish et al., 2000). This is when two female bonobos engage in a sexual act in which they rub genitals with one another. Chimpanzees have not been observed participating in this behavior, it seems they are uninterested in the bonobo “sexcapades.”

With that being said, the bonobo takes sexual behavior to a whole different level. It becomes much more than a simple action used for reproduction. It has been concluded that sexual behavior between bonobos is not only for reproductive purposes but also for a multitude of other reasons. Bonobos engage in sexual activities to demonstrate affection, as a result of excitement, as a means of conflict resolution, and even alliance building and maintaining. It has also been observed to be used as an overall stress-reliever. Because of this use of sex in social interactions, bonobos essentially manage social situations nonviolently, really giving meaning to the phrase “make love, not war.” This means much less competition amongst males, which is another difference between chimpanzee and bonobo behavior. Bonobos seem much more relaxed and, if we can be anthropomorphic for a minute, happy.

This could be grounds to take a closer look and maybe extend the study to human sexual behavior, for we are also apes that engage in sexual activities without the intention being to procreate. For us, a number of the reasons for engagement that I listed are perfectly applicable as well. Though bonobos may be a little more transparent in terms of their sexual behavior, behind closed doors, humans can be just as sexually aggressive. It could be a very interesting study, I think we could find that we are, in fact, very closely related, even if no one would want to admit it!

Here are a couple of pictures of bonobos!

Say Cheese!

Say Cheese!




Zoo Live-Feed

Sadly, I was unable to attend our class trip to the Greensboro Primate Center. I had planned on it, gotten the day off of work for it, and even had woken up very early in the morning so I could set up an event that I was also supposed to be running, in the hopes that I could get it to the point where it could take place without my presence. As the time got closer and closer to our departure, it was clear that I would have to sacrifice the fieldtrip and continue the setup of my event. I was very disappointed and upset that I was not going to be able to see the primates and really be up close and personal with our subjects of study for the past four-or-so months. I was so close!

Luckily enough, our professor, Dr. Michelle Rodrigues, had provided those who would not be able to make it to the Greensboro Primate Center that afternoon with links to online live-feeds of primates at different zoos! I chose to tune in to the San Diego Zoo’s Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) webcam because, let’s be real, who doesn’t want to be in San Diego??

It was a very interesting experience, to say so in the least, as it was, in fact, a live feed from the P. pygmaeus exhibit in San Diego, California. What was more interesting about the feed was that it actually followed the orangutan Indah and her daughter, Aisha, around, wherever she went!

Indah hand-feeding her adorable daughter, Aisha

Indah hand-feeding her adorable daughter, Aisha

As the orangutan moved, the camera would move with it, as if it were a spotlight. This meant that not only was I able to see what was going on, but it was zoomed in rather than being a full shot of the exhibit where I would have to look around for myself.

The exhibit itself was really very well made. After writing my final research paper proposing further research to evaluate zoo-exhibit enrichment and its connection to the animal’s overall health and welfare, I was very interested to see what sort of enrichment the San Diego Zoo provides for its animals. What I found was very pleasing. They seem to have a few large, tree-like structures that sprout up from the ground, way into the sky, that have branch-like protrusions that stick way out, much like the barrel of a military tank. The orangutans regularly climb around on these structures by way of the limbs as well as thick ropes that connect them in all sorts of places. There were also a number of other forms of enrichment, such as trees, swings, nest-like hammocks, burlap sacks (which Indah seemed to like draping over her body to keep the hot sun off her back), rocks, a water feature, and closer to the ground there are large branches and trunks for the orangutans to clamber around on.

Based on my research and thesis, I would say that this exhibit houses a couple of very happy orangs. This is, however, only based on the physical enrichment structures that I could see through the webcam. It would require more research and data collection to actually tell how healthy and happy the orangs actually are. We would have to study their behavior, construct activity budgets, and, most importantly, assess the food they are being fed. This is why, among a number of others, I included the San Diego Zoo in my proposed study. I was assigning the San Diego Zoo a high level of enrichment, but, again, in order to determine if this were true, more research is necessary!

Polyspecific Associations

Polyspecific associations occurs when multiple species interact at same time and in the same place. It is the cooperation of these species that makes polsyspecific associations so significant and interesting. It is not merely the existence of more than one species in an area or the acknowledgment of one by another, in fact, it does not really count as a polsyspecific association if the interaction is not repeated and thus not meaningful. It is the engaging of the two or more species in an interaction that is ultimately beneficial to all parties involved. It can result in the increase in protection from common predators, and even cooperation in finding food and other resources.  Polyspecific asociations are essentially the social adaptation of a species to its environment that it can undergo in order to maximize its chances at survival.

In our textbook Primate Behavioral Ecology, author Karen B. Strier talks about a specific polyspecific association between the Saddleback tamarin (Saguinus fuscicollis) and what is commonly known as the Moustached tamarin (Saguinus mystax). The Saddleback tamarin is the smaller of the two tamarins and gets its name from a signature brownish fur that only covers the lower half of its body, with the rest being jet-black, almost as if it were a, you guessed it, saddle. Here is a great picture of a saddleback tamarin that is showing off its built-in saddle!

Saddleback Tamarin

After the description of the saddleback tamarin, you are probably going to get this one right away. The Moustached tamarin, is all black with natural stylish brown highlights. Its signature feature is a well-defined and established white moustache that gives off the impression that they are not only wise but experienced as well. Take a look at this picture, I think the tamarin is ready for its close-up!

Moustached Tamarin

Moustached Tamarin

So these two tamarins have more or less formed a permanent polyspecific association with one another. Though they live on different levels, with the saddlebacks residing in the understory and the moustached swinging from higher up, closer to the mid canopy, they two species still interact quite regularly. The moustached tamarins actually help feed the saddleback tamarins by dropping bits of food or insects, which the saddlebacks gobble up quickly and happily. If you are in the area and listen really hard, you can actually hear them, “Hey! A tasty grub just fell onto my branch! YUM! Thanks!” Now, the likelihood of the moustached tamarins having any idea of aiding their saddlebacked cousins is slim to none, but there are no complains on either side (although I’m sure, at the very least, a small frustrated tamarin-sized sigh escapes the lips of the moustached tamarin each and every time he or she realizes that he or she has dropped a bit of food).

The relationship and benefits of these two species coinciding goes farther than food. When it comes to predation, the immediate benefit is their numbers. If enough tamarins get together and try to intimidate a predator, they will inevitably win because of how many there are of them verses the one or two predators. They also each have their own adaptations and specialties that they can utilize together. For instance, since the moustaced tamarins live above the saddleback tamarins, they have a better view from above. Conversely, the saddleback tamarins will inevitably have a better idea of who or what may be lurking below.

It is clear to see that when species work together, it is mutually beneficial. There are definitely times when one may take advantage of the other, as there always are, such as being led to and then depleting food sources, but overall two heads are better than one and each can bring its own set of skills and knowledge to the table.


Strier, K. B. (2011). Primate Behavioral Ecology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Cognition in Apes

Communication is imperative to survival and greatly increases a primates chances. Whether it is to warn others of danger about, be it predators or environmental threats, or to inform others about sources of sustenance, communication is one of the keys to success. It also is crucial for the social lives of the primates that they can differentiate individuals from different groups of the same species as well as to simply stay in contact over larger areas. Much like humans, primates communicate by way of vocalizations, body movement/gesture and other physical interactions, facial expressions (especially with teeth), and scents. In order to know how to respond or react, however, primates must be able to recognize the situation he or she is in and what the appropriate course of action would be. Much like humans and our great ability to completely mess up even the most innocent and trivial situations we may find ourselves in, if they make the wrong move in the wrong company, it could cost them their lives!

In our reading, Strier talks about the three levels of cognition, with the first being the simple imitation. Imitation is much what it sounds like, an action or procedure that is learned through observation and mimicked. We have seen imitation before with the Japanese Macaques. These Macaques have a very interesting tradition: food washing. They are known for rinsing their food off in the river; a ritual that has become habit with no apparent purpose. It was a learned trait that was passed on from generation to generation.

The next level, ecological intelligence, at first seems relatively self-explanatory. It is a primate’s grasp on his or her environment. This describes how a primate recognizes and remembers where to find resources; whether that is based on memory of where they have been in the past or distinguishing signs of the presence of a nearby resource. An example of this would be encountering dense vegetation and making the assumption that one is near a water source.

The third level is more geared around the social. This is the primate’s recognition of the situation that he or she is in with his or her fellow primates or encounters with other animals. Much of the time these are inter-group interactions, be them with food, play, protection, or other social activities such as grooming, mating, and so on. They also must act differently depending on who they are with in terms of the social structure of their population. If they are with higher ranking individuals, they must submit as opposed to lower ranking individuals where they hold the power. This is also apparent in intra-group interactions, with distinguishing outsiders from group members and knowing to act differently around them; most likely aggressively.

The film Ape Genius, which can be found on YouTube, is a phenomenal hour-long PBS Nova film of a number of primate cognitive skills; whether it a chimpanzee chewing the end of a branch to make a sharp spear used to get bush babies that are hiding in tree crevasses, or learning how to work puzzle devices by watching researchers or other primates. One of the most interesting parts of the film that I found was that the researchers discovered that the apes will help humans. In the film, they tested things such as reaching for an object that is out of reach and found that the ape in fact retrieved the item for the researcher, unless, of course, it was either a ripe banana or a juicy grape!

Go to 22:25 and take a look for yourself!


Strier, K. B. (2011). Primate Behavioral Ecology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

New Species of Slow Loris!

“An international team of scientists studying the elusive nocturnal primate the slow loris in the jungles of Borneo have discovered an entirely new species,” was all I needed to continue reading this article! Because these mammals are nocturnal, it has been difficult to document and learn more about them but due to technological advances, there has been easier access to information. It has even been discovered that though “the number of recognized primate species has doubled in the past 25 years some not curnal species remain hidden to science.”

Slow Lorises are, in my opinion, most recognizable by their faces, especially those big eyes. It gets me every time they blink. Have you ever seen it? It is one of my favorite parts of watching the loris, almost as good as when they move ever so slowly! Anyway, lorises are also recognized by the color of their fur on both the face and body but nocturnal species have less distinct coloring and external differences. This particular Borneo species had itself a mask-like fur pattern on their faces and, according to the research, the masks are distinguishing features between a few different species of both Bornean and Philippine lorises. Two species had previously been categorized as subspecies but have since been assumed as their own species. Another of those Bornean species, Nycticebus kayan, is the new species. This is where I got most excited.

N. kayan is found in the central-east highland area of Borneo and is apparently named after a river that flows nearby. Not only was this discovery exciting in and of itself but it also suggests more species of loris exist in small groups that have not yet been documented or loved. It even suggests that other nocturnal species exist right under our noses! It is fascinating that in this day and age, when technology and knowledge rule our lives, that there is still so much to learn about earth. As humans we feel the need to expand minds and learn as much as we can. We like to think that we know just about everything and what we don’t know we can figure out based on the information we already have, experience, and logic. It’s nice to be put in our place as just another organism that inhabits this earth every once in a while. It keeps us in check but, most importantly if you ask me, it reminds us how much more there is out there. The world will continue to surprise us and keep us on our toes. We must make sure that our actions has human beings do not threaten the lives and survival of these unknown, as well as known, species!

One of the saddest parts of this article, and it was only briefly touched upon, was the harm that is done by the pet trade. All I want is a nice, fuzzy, lovable slow loris but it is one of the biggest threats posed to their existence!

If you want to read this article, click the link below!


Proposed Paper Topic

For my final paper, I would like to do a research proposal. Since our visit to the zoo, I have been very interested with the gorilla life in captivity and how it differs from life in the wild. After reading only a fraction of Dian Fossey’s work, both published as well as raw field notes and data, it is clear that her findings were very different from my experience at the zoo. According to Fossey, the gorilla is what we would consider a lazy ape. This is mostly, however, due to their rest-and-digest strategy. The gorilla rest-and-digest strategy is the idea that because of the amount of food consumed, especially with the increased difficulty of extracting energy from that food source (plants, roots, and leaves mostly) they need to give their bodies ample time for digestion. This is where the gorilla gets its infamous reputation for lazing about, when really they are simply doing their digestive duties. This is why when I first arrived at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, I decided to set aside all judgment and observe the gorillas knowing that they may not be very active. What I found was that they were far from active, at least the adults. At this particular zoo, foraging is not quite provided for the gorillas, meaning their only source of food is that which the keeper throws to their feet. Directly to their feet. They need not move an inch. The zoo had made these gorillas actually lazy, not just lazy to the untrained eye. The young gorillas were essentially still as playful as Fossey’s subjects suggested. This made sense to me as the juveniles only need a small space to romp around with one another. They can make a game out of anything as long as the two of them are there. With this being said, I think that the elimination of such a large portion of the natural day, such as foraging, leaves them with no alternative and ultimately affects their activity budget and overall behavior.

This paper would propose research designed to explore and compare the captive gorilla to the wild gorilla. I would like to consult a number of scholarly articles and papers as well as conduct field research myself with a set number of zoo gorilla populations as well as the same number of wild gorilla populations. Hopefully through this research I will be able to see those differences numerically and scientifically and up close with my own two eyes. I am hoping to use sources such as The Management of Gorillas in Captivity, and Great apes in captivity. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I want to know that the accusations I make of the zoo and overall captivity are justified and not because I arrived on a cold, cloudy, winter morn. I would be very disappointed in myself for jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence.

Zoo Impressions

Our class trip to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro was full of surprises. It all started early one Saturday morning. I was awakened from my slumber by the alarm on my mobile phone and I knew it was time to go. Soon after I was being driven over the designated meeting point outside of our Anthropology museum on campus. We were to meet as a group, divide into cars, and embark on the almost 90 minute journey that separated us from our gorilla subjects. As everyone grouped up, I remained in the car, slumped over in my seat as, alas, I am no “morning person.” When we arrived at the zoo, it was clear that we would be some of the only visitors, at least for a while.

The morning was cold, the sky was cloudy, and the zoo was virtually empty. This goes for the animals as well. It seemed, unfortunately, that it was too cold of a morning. The animals would not be out until later. We first encountered this sad truth when trying to get a quick look at the polar bear while we were on our way to “Africa” for the gorilla exhibit. It was a long and winding road to the African side of the zoo, sometimes causing us to confusingly double back on our path. Then we made it; and that’s when my heart sank. Not only could I not see the gorillas right away, but there was a sign that read: Closed. After all that time, the gorilla exhibit was not open yet. Our professor informed us that the gorillas would not be out to play until the temperature had risen, which they predicted would be around noon. This was not what we wanted to hear but it meant we had some downtime which we could use to enjoy the rest of the zoo. The biggest problem was that most of the other animals were either curled up in the corner or had also not been let out into the cold just yet. Our spirits were wearing thin, until we happened upon the baboon pavilion. Not only was it an enclosed structure that was warm inside, but the baboons were out and about. They were running, playing, grooming, and even mating. This made for a very entertaining morning.

Once we got back to the Forest Glade gorilla exhibit, the gorillas had be brought out and our research could finally begin. Even though a few inches of glass in a couple selected areas separated us from the gorillas, it was a very cool experience seeing them in person. They were real, they were there, and everything they did was right in front of me, unedited, and raw. That was to coolest part. If they came all the way up to the glass, which happened fairly often, they were right there in front of you. Sometimes they would get close enough where they would put their hands on the glass and you could see the similarities in their anatomy. You could stare them in the eyes and they would look right back at you, studying you as much you them. Though these interactions were short-lived, overall it really was an incredible experience.

It was also very interesting watching them go about their captive lives. What my research shows, and fairly accurately, is that for most of the time the adult gorillas were at rest. They sat, they lay down, they perched, and they leaned. The gorillas, if I may anthropomorphize for a moment, are lazy. All they do is a whole lot of nothing. The infants, of which there were two, were full of energy. They played, ran, climbed, clambered, wrestled, and played even more. Though the juveniles also rested, it was only for a fraction of the time of their parents. Many times I observed the juveniles irritate their adults with their energy, which would result in a stiff arm either pushing or hitting them away. Don’t worry, the juveniles would bounce right back up and would be back at play in no time! If the whole group was as playful and energetic as the juveniles, which the baboons essentially were, they would be more entertaining to watch.

I think the main reason for the laziness of the gorillas was the fact that they had no need to be active. While in captivity, the gorillas are well cared for but their comfort, safety, and stability has led to almost a lack of meaning in their lives. They do nothing because there is nothing for them to do. Captivity seems to have stripped them of most of their animalistic instincts and they are left with nothing but a small, enclosed, artificial pen. They are fed, watered, pampered, and kept from as many dangers as the zoo can afford to keep them from. For this reason, I do not believe that our research is even close to complete until we take into account the conditions of our subjects and the behaviors they would exhibit had they been wild gorillas.

This was the only time I ever saw Apollo rest

This was the only time I ever saw Apollo rest