February 4, 2013

Apes comfort with hugs

Scientist recently discovered that some apes comfort one another with hugs and sex.

Bonobo group hug

Bonobo group hug

Bonobo apes, also known as dwarf chimpanzees, live naturally in swamp and primary forest in the threatened rainforests of the Congo. Studies at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in DR Congo near Kinshasa were published recently in the journal PLoS One, showing that young bonobo apes often consoled the losers of social squabbles.

The research also found that apes raised by their mothers were more likely to offer comfort than orphaned young bonobos.

Well known for their close interpersonal relationships and even peace-keeping behavior sometimes involving sexual activity, this new research suggests that less sophisticated cognitive skills might be needed for this behaviour than previously thought.

“I’ve spent a long time observing bonobos over the years, and have often noticed how much juvenile bonobos approach victims to comfort them ……. this is why I found it surprising that the ape literature has really only focused on consolation in mature individuals, it hasn’t been really looked at before in juveniles:” explained Dr Zanna Clay (Emory University in Atlanta, USA) who worked on the study in the sanctuary which rehabilitates rescued bonobos and is the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.

The evidence is that bonobos’ comforting behaviour takes several forms, from embracing, touching and patting to a wide array of sexual activities. But perhaps mostly interestingly, the study also raises the issue that while some apes display this behavior, monkeys do not. So what exactly are the special social abilities that monkeys lack?


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