People are social beings. They excel at cooperating with others even outside their family or society, for example, through trading. While other species also collaborate within their groups, cooperation outside a group has rarely been observed. Researchers have now achieved this with bonobos, challenging the notion that only humans are capable of strong and strategic cooperative relationships. Their study has been published in the journal Science.
Two behavioral biologists from Harvard University and the German Primate Center observed two groups of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo over two years, comprising a total of 31 adult individuals. They were interested in the behavior of the primates within their group and between groups.
The observed behavior was much more peaceful than what the researchers knew about chimpanzees. When different groups of bonobos meet, they often travel, rest, or eat together. “This tolerance paves the way for pro-social cooperative behaviors such as forming alliances and sharing food across groups, a stark contrast to what we see in chimpanzees,” says Liran Samuni from the German Primate Center, the lead author of the study, in a statement.
Chimpanzees Are Much Hostile
Chimpanzees and bonobos are the two living species closest to humans. Scientists aim to reconstruct how the unique ability for cooperation in humans has evolved through their observation. Despite living in similar social groups composed of adults of both genders, the two species differ in how they interact between groups. Chimpanzees often display hostility toward unfamiliar individuals.
On the other hand, bonobos engage in intergroup cooperation not only when there is an immediate benefit, observed the research duo. This extends beyond the collaboration seen in other non-human species, such as dolphins, where cooperation partners may gain better access to disputed resources. According to the study, collaboration between unrelated individuals without direct reciprocation is considered exclusively human.
“Bonobos show us that the ability to maintain peaceful between-group relationships while extending acts of pro-sociality and cooperation to out-group members is not uniquely human” says Martin Surbeck of Harvard University, co-author of the study.
Featured Image: Bonobo | Species | WWF (worldwildlife.org)