Culture in Chimpanzees and Bonobos – Wild and Zoo Cultures

Ape Culture

In different groups of Chimpanzee there are different behaviours that appear to be learned, and nothing to do with any different conditions. These things may be as simple as different techniques, requiring different tool to get Termites out of their nest.

Chimpanzee and Bonobo Culture

But, I surprise about the completely different ways Chimpanzees and Bonobos behave towards others in their groups.

In Chimpanzees the group is completely dominated by the larger and more powerful males. There is an Alpha Male, but unlike the Gorillas, he does not have exclusive right to mate with the Females.

In Bonobos, although observation indicates that there is an Alpha male, the society is dominated by the physically smaller females.

Chimpanzees will fight and can kill each other, while fighting is not normal with Bonobos, and lethal violence has never been recorded.


These are two related species of similar intelligence. In both situations they are sexually dimorphic with the males being considerably bigger than the females.

There is no obvious physical reason for their totally different societies. Some people have tried to explain the differences in the different conditions of their respective habitats. Although there may be some truth in this idea, to me it more explains the origins of the difference instead of the mechanism of its continuation.

The truth is that we really do not know how the difference is maintained, but I think that it is mainly cultural, not genetic. Naturally, if it is cultural; the two species may have evolved along the lines of the cultural difference.

This is difficult to be sure of by observation alone, and any experiment in the wild would seriously put the animals at risk.

Zoo Culture

In zoos, animals may behave differently from in the wild. At Monarto Zoo near Adelaide South Australia there is a group of four male Chimpanzees. These four animals are friends. When the most highly strung one climbed to the highest point of their exercise bars he panicked when he saw Humans riding Camels. One of the others went up and comforted him.

This is a completely unnatural group. For one thing there are no females. There is also no Alpha male.

But, little do they know. There are four young, sexually mature, females on the way. The interactions will be interesting to observe.

Possibly the Chimpanzees of Monarto will build up a more peaceful culture than normal wild Chimpanzee culture.

Leave a Reply