Notes toward an understanding of the bonobo, Africa's most elusive primate, from the always engaging de Waal, a noted...

READ REVIEW

BONOBO: The Forgotten Ape

Notes toward an understanding of the bonobo, Africa's most elusive primate, from the always engaging de Waal, a noted primatologist (Good Natured, 1996). De Waal and photographer Lanting have crafted a book likely to appeal to a large audience, combining hard-won information with superb, provocative images. The bonobo, a close relative of the chimpanzee, exists only in a tiny community in the remote forest reaches of northern Zaire. It has been the subject of little research, yet what is known of the species (through fieldwork and zoo studies) is intriguing. The bonobo, de Waal notes, is ""a creature of considerable intellect with a secure sense of its place in the world. . . so akin to ourselves that the dividing line is seriously blurred."" But the bonobo is very much its own species, living in a peaceful egalitarian society (female dominant), one that substitutes sex for aggression, with ""a varied, almost imaginative, eroticism."" While the sexual aspect is absorbing and gets plenty of attention here, de Waal also probes social organization, methods of raising offspring, modes of communication, and status in the wild. He knits together the work done on bonobos (displaying an impressive talent for synthesizing his own work with that of others and presenting it in a commonsensical, elegant voice), and provides some clearly argued theories about why bonobo society is the way it is: Prolonged sexual attractiveness in the females, it is suggested, led to same-sex sexuality, which led to female alliances and thus female dominance; in males, a reduced competition for mates led to reduced alliances, obscured paternity, and reduced infanticide. Sadly, even in its obscure patch of land the peaceful bonobo is threatened, stalked by poachers and facing a dwindling habitat. A fascinating, delightfully successful treatment of an arresting creature.

Pub Date: May 1, 1997

ISBN: 0520216512

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997