cover image Bonobo


F. B. M. De Waal, Frans de Waal, Frans Lanting. University of California Press, $50 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-520-20535-2

In the still-secluded rain forests of Zaire in Africa, a species of timid great apes called the bonobo lives in a large area between great rivers. Distinct from chimpanzees, the apes were first discovered in 1929 but have been studied extensively for just the past two decades. Only about 100 exist in captivity, so few people have ever seen a bonobo. Lanting's 75 beautiful color photographs will change that, and de Waal's clear and sensitive written portrayal of the species will add new understandings of primate behavior, including our own. ""Sex is the glue of bonobo society,"" de Waal writes. The bonobo are female-centered and egalitarian and take sex far beyond the needs of procreation. Among the bonobo, sexual liaisons--and they are not always heterosexual--determine social structure rather than the other way around. While de Waal is correctly cautious about prematurely labeling the bonobo as the ""make love, not war"" species (for a long time chimpanzees were thought to be nonaggressive toward each other), field studies at present disclose a remarkably nonviolent, cooperative society. The bonobo population is declining because of habitat destruction, but hopefully this book will alert conservation groups along with behavioral scientists, naturalists and the general public. Not since the publication of Jane Goodall's field research on chimpanzees, In the Shadow of Man, has a book on infra-human primates appeared with the potential to truly startle and broaden our thinking. (May)