Bonobos Share Better

Photo by Ltshears, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Sharing comes naturally to bonobos, the smallest of the chimpanzeelike apes. Their larger cousins, common chimpanzees, share naturally only in childhood. Human children have to be taught how to share. But bonobos apparently never learn how not to share.

In the paper in Current Biology, researchers from Harvard and Duke universities designed experiments to measure food-sharing and social inhibition among chimps and bonobos in African sanctuaries:

  • Paired animals were put into an enclosure with food. Younger chimps behaved similarly to young bonobos in their willingness to share food. But as chimps matured, they became markedly less willing to share.
  • Bonobos, given an opportunity to hog a food pile all to themselves, while a fellow bonobo watched from behind a gate, universally chose to open the gate and let their friend share—even if he or she wasn’t begging or asking.

Co-author Brian Hare told Duke University:

“A chimp would never voluntarily do that. Chimps will do things to help one another, but the one thing they will not do is share food.”

Bonobos continue to share like juveniles even in adulthood. This may be thanks to their habitat south of the Congo River, where an abundance of food allows them to maintain a cooperative gentleness throughout life. Unlike common chimps, bonobos don’t have to compete with gorillas for food. Nor do they compete with each other.

In effect, the researchers say, bonobos never have to grow up. Peter Pan. Pan paniscus.

Bonobos also enjoy life in a matriarchy. Chimps weather life in a patriarchy. Lucky bonobos.
 

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.