Dec 27, 2015

Bonobo Handshake

by Vanessa Woods

The bonobo is very similar to a chimpanzee, but with significant differences. They stand upright and have smaller heads, with more humanlike proportions. They live relatively peacefully, don't engage in warfare between groups or commit infanticide. The author's new husband was studying bonobos in the Congo (the only place in the world where they exist in the wild) and she went along to help with the research. The studies, which examined the extent of the bonobos' ability to cooperate, tolerance levels and their hormonal response to the presence of strangers, were conducted at a rescue center that took in young bonobos orphaned by the bushmeat trade and illegal wildlife trafficking. Though her story was just as much about a time and place (heavy on details of local politics and ugly warfare) as it was about the bonobos, I still learned quite a lot about the wild apes. Compared to them, chimpanzees appear brutal and outright vicious. I'm now curious to learn more about them, and have found a few more titles (there are not many published).

This book is definitely not for the squeamish: the author describes horrific atrocities that took place in the Congo, devastating things to live through for humans and bonobos alike. Yet she describes it all in a rather detached, casual manner (with a fair sprinkling of expletives) that sometimes almost made me loose interest in reading. The profanity obviously bothered a reader before me, who marked up the library copy I had with a ballpoint pen, crossing out phrases they apparently found objectionable, and writing in other words in their place. Oh, and there are a number of descriptions of the bonobos engaging in sexual activity. That's another significant characteristic they have- they use sex to diffuse tension. Frequently. Although after carefully observing when, why, and between whom these acts occurred, the author came up with her own ideas for why the bonobos are so free with sex compared to other apes (even youngsters who had never observed adult behavior- being orphaned very abruptly- engaged in what looked like sexual behavior). Surprisingly, my fellow reader with the blue pen didn't mark out or comment on these passages!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5        278 pages, 2010

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Thistle said...

The expletives thing is odd. While cursing doesn't bother me, it doesn't at all seem like it belongs in a book like this... Wonder why the editor didn't make her change them.

Jeane said...

Well, it really is written as a memoir, of her time spent in Congo accompanying her boyfriend. So it's written in a very casual style, and the author just happens to use that type of language of emphasis, it seems. It didn't bother me at all. I wasn't too interesting in the details of her personal life though, so I kind of forgot to mention that aspect of the book in my review!

Thistle said...

Oooh I misunderstood then. I thought it had more of a formal lean, not so much a memoir. Makes sense then!