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Bonobo × Chimpanzee

Pan paniscus × Pan troglodytes

EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS
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Bonobo
Bonobo, or Pygmy Chimpanzee
(Pan paniscus)
Chimpanzee
Common Chimpanzee
(Pan troglodytes)
Hybridization between chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos, also known as pygmy chimpanzees, (Pan paniscus) has occurred in captivity (Vervaecke and van Elsacker 1992, Vervaecke 2002; Vervaecke et al. 2004).

In 1979, a circus director in France bought what he believed to be a male chimpanzee. It performed in acts and regularly mated with two female chimpanzees. This male ape, however, turned out to be a bonobo. Between 1991 and 2000, seven hybrids were produced from these matings, most or all of which survived. By 2000, the oldest was working in the circus act in place of his retired father.

Apparently, natural hybridization has not as yet been reported. The ranges of the bonobo and the chimpanzee are separated by the Congo and the Lualaba rivers, but contact may occur in the vicinity of Stanley Falls where the river can easily be crossed during times of low water. Apes, however, cannot swim and are afraid of water. Moreover, the two rivers in question are crocodile infested.

In a brief abstract of a presentation given at the Spring 2003 meeting of the Primate Society of Great Britain. Vervaecke et al. (2004) state the following: “From historical accounts it appears that natural populations of bonobos and chimpanzees have been allopatric since their phylogenetic separation. There are no accounts of hybridisation under

natural conditions. There is, however, evidence for interbreeding between bonobos and chimpanzees in captivity. We briefly (6.5 h) observed and filmed a small group of four bonobo-chimpanzee hybrids (2 males, aged 10 and 9, and 2 females aged 10 and 8). There was clear individual variation in degree of expression of typical chimpanzee or bonobo features. In each individual, there were anatomical features reminiscent of both of the parental species: the specific bonobo-like pink coloration of the lips, the hairstyle and slender body build, the chimpanzee-like dorsal position of the female genitals, more sturdy body build and prognathism. The behaviours could be categorized less exclusively. We observed mostly female oriented interactions, including grooming, play, approaches and intersexual ventro-dorsal sex. There was one female coalition against the males. The individuals lip-smacked while grooming and performed swaggering displays. The hoots were like chimpanzee pant-hoots with an introduction, build-up and climax in a higher pitched bonobo tone and more ‘e’ than ‘o’ sounds. Studies on Pan in the seventies and eighties emphasised discontinuity between the two species, contrasting the male-dominated, aggressive nature of the chimpanzee to the female-oriented, peaceful nature of the bonobo. In the nineties and in present studies, the continuity among Pan is increasingly being documented. The existence of hybrids challenges our tendency for binary thinking and points at the conceptual relativity of the species gap.
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By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).

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