Present and future bonobo (Pan paniscus) research at the Royal Zoological
Society of Antwerp (Belgium)
Van Elsacker, L.; Aerts, P.; Dupain, J.; Meuleman, B.; Sannen, A. & Vervaecke, H.
Rzsa, K. Astridplein 26 B-2018 Antwerp, Belgium UIA, Universiteitsplein 1 B-2610 Wilrijk,
Our closest living relatives can be found in the genus Pan. Because of their
morphological, genetic and behavioural similarities with humans, they have repeatedly
served as models for the missing link or protohominid. Although this referential value is
disputed, aggressive tendencies in chimpanzees as well as the hippie-image of bonobos are
popularly being used to speculate about the roots of human behaviour. However, relatively
few quantitative data are available for the bonobo. Hitherto, in the wild only a few
groups (i.e. in Wamba and Lomako) have been habituated to a degree allowing individual
recognition. Studies on captive groups are useful in clarifying part of the behavioural
potential of the species and offer the advantage of "detail". Preferably these
groups should be housed so that they mimic the natural social structure and dynamics. Over
the past ten years, the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp (RZSA), international
co-ordinator of the conservation breeding program for the bonobo, has successfully
stimulated the participating zoos to fulfil this precondition. The aim of the bonobo
research project of the RZSA is to add to the knowledge of the species in an evolutionary
perspective by studying it both in situ (research site Iyema, Lomako Forest, Congo) and in
several captive groups (eg Planckendael). Current and future research topics relate to
social relationships and their underlying physiology (sex and stress hormones) and
ecological bases (eg. Vervaecke 1999). Some of the cognitive potentials of bonobos are
studied experimentally. Our relatively new project on bipedal locomotion (Aerts et al.
submitted) will be elaborated through the study of detailed kinesiology in reference to
the evolutionary origin of human bipedalism.
Vervaecke, H. 1999. Dominance relationships, bonding and the female genital
swelling cycle in bonobos (Pan paniscus). PhD (compilation of papers) (Univ. Antwerp)
Aerts, P.; Van Damme, R.; Van Elsacker, L. & Duchenne, V. (submitted Amer. J.
Phys. Anthropol.). Spatio-temporal gait characteristics of the hind limb cycles during
voluntary bipedal and qaudrupedal walking in bonobos (Pan paniscus)