Touch My Penis! You won't regret it...

The title totally got your attention, didn't it? And the fact that you're reading this implies that you're curious... don't deny it. You can't help it, I know. But more than my penis, this entry is really about bonobo chimps. Sorry to tease and disappoint...

Bonobos, along with pan troglodyte (the chimpanzees that everyone is familiar with) are our closest evolutionary relatives. The members of this primarily matriarchal species are capable of exhibiting many human-like characteristics, such as altruism, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, sensitivity, kindness, generosity and many other amiable traits, and they possess these character traits, in some cases, to a larger degree than humans do (the ability to forgive might be one of these).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about bonobos is that everything revolves around sex. Sex is the social glue that keeps bonobo society together: they use it as a form of greeting (what I've always dreamed of...), for confrontation avoidance, post-confrontation reconciliation, as a form of favor exchange, and as the ultimate stress reliever. Nothing is taboo for them; they engage in every imaginable sexual configuration: homo, hetero and group sex; they french kiss, engage in oral sex, genital rubbing and penis fencing; there is no discrimination on the basis of gender, age (neither infant nor old), genetic relatedness (though females do not usually engage in sexual intercourse with their adult sons), and they go at it for hours at a time on a daily basis!

But before we get to the sexual stuff, why don't we become a bit more familiar with bonobos and with our close relatedness: in this moving presentation, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh asks whether uniquely human traits, and other animals' behaviors, are hardwired by species. Then she rolls a video that makes you think: maybe not. The bonobo apes she works with understand spoken English. One follows her instructions to take a cigarette lighter from her pocket and use it to start a fire. Bonobos are shown making tools, drawing symbols to communicate, and playing Pac-Man -- all tasks learned just by watching (maybe one day she'll graduate from Pac-Man to Halo?). Maybe it's not always biology that causes a species to act as it does, she suggests. Maybe it's cultural exposure to how things are done.

So, back to the 'touch my penis' reference. The following is an episode of In Conversation, in which Robyn Williams speaks with the lovely and incredibly charismatic Vanessa Woods, who has been working with bonobos in the Congo. The conversation is one you can't afford to miss: it's both educational and incredibly fun!

And for the mesmerizing lecture given by Jane Goodall (mentioned at the beginning of the audio above) you can listen to it here.

Monkeys rock!
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