Because of the similarities between bonobo chimpanzees and humans, it is important the animals are saved from extinction, said Philip J. Regal, a professor in the University’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior.
“Bonobos are so close to humans in the anatomy and in their behavior that they create problems for the way we conceptualize human nature,” he said. “Whenever they come up, academics argue about them.”
On Wednesday evening, Regal presented a seminar in Ford Hall titled “The Bonobo: Our Closest Primate Cousin is Near Extinction. What is Being Lost?” There, Regal said the research potential of bonobos would lend to understanding of human evolution.
But, only about 2,500 bonobo specimens exist as of 1995. Of these, 100 live in captivity and the rest live in the rain forests of Zaire, where they are vulnerable to poachers, he said.
Regal received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1968 and completed postdoctoral work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. He holds faculty memberships in the University’s departments of conservation biology, ecology and zoology.
To an audience of about 20, he shared research from his forthcoming book, an untitled study of bonobos and their implications for human evolution.
The book’s publication is pending the success of the recently-released “Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape” by Frans De Waal, which is the first popular work written about bonobos.
Regal stated that research of the bonobo explains nine mysteries of human evolution, including the origins of various mating practices, social relationships and gender roles.
He also introduced physiological similarities between the bonobo and the human being. Most significantly, they are 98.6 percent genetically identical to humans.
Other similarities include a slender, graceful physical makeup and small teeth. Such similarities show that bonobos are merely a more primitive version of humanity.
Regal introduced two possible patterns of human evolution involving bonobos. One suggested that a common ancestor displayed characteristics more common to the bonobo than the common chimpanzee, thus explaining why humans share more characteristics with former than the latter.
The other evolutionary model suggested that evolution proceeded through various phases, producing an early human with a variety of characteristics common to both chimpanzees and bonobos.
The intricacies of the bonobo social system were also addressed. He pointed out that a low level of conflict led to a high survival rate of bonobo offspring. The low level of conflict is a direct result of the highly-sexual lifestyle in bonobo society.
Sex is nearly constant within bonobo social circles. Bonobos use sex beyond reproductive means; they use it to alleviate tension and socially bond, as well as a means for erotic love.
The seminar was the last in a series sponsored by the University’s Program in Human Rights and Medicine. The mission of the seminar series was to educate people about issues in medical ethics by introducing a wide variety of topics within different disciplines.