What Is A Bonobo?

On Tuesday, the wait for LUCY will be over and the world will get to know the charming heroine of Laurence Gonzales’s daring new novel—a fourteen year-old girl who is half human and half bonobo. (Meet Lucy)

A lot of readers may be wondering, what exactly is a bonobo?

Bonobos are a species of ape, closely related to chimpanzees. They are endangered and are found in the wild only in the Congo. One of the largest colony of bonobos in the world resides at the Milwaukee County Zoo, which is where Laurence Gonzales first encountered the animals.

Recently, there has been a spike of interest in bonobos in the literary world. In the New York Times, Claudia Dreifus spoke with author Vanessa Woods and her husband Brian Hare about their work with the apes (‘Why Bonobos Don’t Kill Each Other’). Publishers Weekly identified the trend with a piece that featured LUCY as well as forthcoming novels by Sara Gruen and Benjamin Hale (‘Writers Go Ape Lit’).

Here are just a few facts about bonobos that will get you up to speed and ready to read LUCY:

1. Bonobos are listed as the most endangered of the great apes and outside of captivity they can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are fewer than 10,000 bonobos remaining in the wild.

2. Some scientists argue that the bonobo is the most intelligent of the primates. The San Diego Zoo and other sources list bonobos as our closest living relatives, though others debate that humans are more genetically similar to the common chimpanzee.

3. Bonobos are matriarchal. Females are closely bonded and tend to dominate males.

4. Bonobos have been able to learn the meanings of many human words and they can be trained to communicate with humans by using sign language or symbol boards.

5. Bonobos are the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in face-to-face sex, tongue kissing, and oral sex.

6. Both males and females appear to use sexual contact as a means of communication and a way to ease tensions that might otherwise erupt into conflict.

Learn more by reading the first chapter of LUCY here.