top of page
Mother bonobo cradling infant, vocalizing.

What's a Bonobo?

What’s so cool about bonobos?

Bonobos are great apes, like humans! They are only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they live in the Congo Basin Rainforest - the second largest rainforest on the planet. 


Bonobos are peaceful, cooperative, and welcoming to newcomers. Bonobos are endangered and could go extinct in our lifetime. We're on a mission to stop that.

They are our closest living relatives

Bonobos were finally recognized as a distinct species from chimpanzees in 1933. Humans are more closely related to bonobos (and chimpanzees) than to any other animals alive today.


We share 98.7% of our DNA with bonobos!

Female caregiver (surrogate mother) holds a young orphaned bonobo at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Young bonobo riding on the back of mother bonobo near water at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.

Females are in charge

The dominant bonobo in any group is always a female. This is unusual in the animal kingdom. Only a handful of mammals are matriarchal. Bonobo females are smaller than males, but they band together to maintain order in the group. If a male bonobo becomes aggressive, the females use their strength in numbers to prevent him from hurting anyone.

They are masters of avoiding conflict

Bonobos have evolved to avoid fighting – about anything. Researchers working at our sanctuary discovered that when a situation had the potential to cause conflict (such as two individuals competing for food), chimpanzees had an increase in testosterone, which is related to competitiveness, and bonobos had an increase in cortisol, which is related to stress. This stress response leads bonobos to seek social reassurance.

Two bonobo grooming each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.

They have a lot to teach us

Bonobos are kind, intelligent, and playful -- they embody the best side of humankind. By studying bonobos, we can better understand not only them, but ourselves.

Sharing is a way of life

Research conducted at Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary has shown that bonobos are truly good Samaritans, perhaps even better than people. We prefer to help people we are related to, or people we know, rather than strangers. Bonobos feel empathy towards family and friends and love to share with them, but when given a choice, bonobos prefer to share food with strangers.

Two young bonobo hugging at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Group of bonobo crossing through rainforest.

‘The Bonobo Handshake’

The main way bonobos diffuse tension is certainly original – they have sex, or more specifically, they use social sexual contact. To strengthen their relationships, females will rub their genitals together. If anyone in the group, male or female, is feeling stressed, anxious, or irritated, someone will run over and give them a ‘bonobo handshake.’ This kind of conflict resolution seems to be at the heart of their peaceful society.

They are an endangered species

Bonobos live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and nowhere else on earth. They are victims of the illegal bushmeat trade, which is driven by extreme poverty. Hunters kill adult bonobos for their meat and sell the traumatized orphaned babies as pets. Habitat loss due to logging and agriculture also threaten bonobos with extinction. No one is sure how many bonobos are left in the wild, but it could be as few as 5,000.

Bonobo swinging in the trees in the rainforest of DR Congo.

Want more bonobos?

Sign up to get 5 bonobo videos over 5 days.
bottom of page