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Valentine’s Day is World Bonobo Day

bonobos hugging

Could bonobos show us how to have a caring Valentine’s Day?

Bonobos are often known as the ‘make love not war’ apes, so St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is the perfect date for World Bonobo Day.

But is this just because they are somewhat…promiscuous? Bonobos certainly make love a lot because they use this ‘bonobo handshake’ to settle arguments or competition before fighting breaks out. They are biologically conditioned to look for a peaceful solution, unlike the more rambunctious chimpanzees.

But there’s more to bonobos than what comes after (or more likely before) dinner.

They like to have fun

bonobos having fun

Bonobos are the playful apes. Like humans they can smile, laugh and put on a ‘play face’ when they’re having a fun rough and tumble rather than a real fight. 

They don’t just play with members of their group - when meeting up with another group, instead of fighting, they will play and make love instead.

And, like humans, they like to kiss and hug, and make love for fun, sometimes face-to-face.

They are good at relationships

When moving around in the wild, looking for food and nesting sites, they will wait for the rest of the group to catch up before feasting. They like to hang out, have fun and sleep in large mixed groups at night.

Bonobos understand when other bonobos are in distress, and they make more eye contact than chimps. They will console their friends when they are hurt and yawn when others are yawning, just like humans.

But are they monogamous? Er, no. They will have their favourites but bonobos love to share the love - to court favour, to settle arguments, to defuse tension - consensual, and pansexual - and only once every four years or so will it result in a baby. They don’t save themselves for their nearest and dearest.

Bonobo couple engaging in socio-sexual contact
Photo by Leon Haberkorn

Mums have a say in romance

In the wild, male bonobos are more likely to have success with women if their mums are around. Often in the wild and always in captivity, a female bonobo leads the group, with her eldest son the alpha male. With mum around, the daughters of the high-ranking females are more likely to mate with their sons.

This female leadership, where bonobo friendships, family and strong female bonds counter the bigger strength of the males, makes the bonobos a peace-loving species.

Bonobos love babies

Despite all the love-making, they only have babies every four years after their child becomes more independent. The low birth rate means each new baby is extra-precious and hard to replace.

Bonobo mother and nursing baby
Photo by Andrey Gudkov

And bonobo mums are so important to their babies - love is as important as food - that Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary (the only bonobo sanctuary in the world) employs human Mamas to take care of their rescued bonobo babies, sadly orphaned from poaching. Without round-the-clock love and attention, the babies would die from a broken heart.

What can bonobos teach us about love?

Unlike chimps, bonobos mostly work out their family issues through love, not fighting. They share food willingly, they notice if one of their number is hurt, they play and have fun, they cherish babies.

We can show them love by helping the survival and 'thrival' of the bonobos. The best way to do this is by supporting Friends of Bonobos, a top-rated charity.

Friends of Bonobos rescue orphaned and injured bonobos to the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo, educate Congolese about their precious and unique species (bonobos are only found in the Central African rainforests of the DRC) and rewild them in the DRC Ekolo ya Bonobo Community Reserve.

Exclusive Offer!

Here's a unique gift for your sweetie or for the bonobo lover in your life! When you give $35 or more you'll receive an exclusive baby bonobo plushy, available only from Friends of Bonobos! Offer valid through Feb. 14, 2022 for US addresses only.

For mailing to Canada, UK, or Europe the minimum donation is $50.

Live somewhere else? Please email us at and let us know what country you're in, and we will determine the shipping cost. We ask that you donate at least $30 USD + the cost of international shipping.