Many of the Great Apes have been kicking it in America's zoos for decades now. Chimpanzees, for instance, are found in thirty-five such establishments; gorillas in fifty-one.
Someone, however, hasn't been invited to the party. The bonobo, one of human’s closest relatives and one of the most intelligent species on earth, is found in only seven of America's zoos.
Why are bonobos being excluded from these lavish primate hang sessions?
The reason is they apparently go a little too heavy on the PDA.
Bonobos, you see, love having sex. They use it wide variety of purposes far beyond the realm of procreation. Sex for them helps cement bonds, form friendships, and resolve disputes. It occurs in a variety of combinations regardless of gender: with both males and females frequently getting frisky with members of their own kind.
Bonobos, you might say, are the unabashed pornographers of the animal kingdom.
And so one reason why zoos generally don’t accept bonobos is because they are apparently afraid the public will be outraged at the sight of these X-rated displays.
But shutting the door on bonobos undermines precisely the goals zoos presumably set out to accomplish.
First, it deprives these playful creatures of the benefits of a knowledgeable and understanding public. Bonobos are an endangered species, and their limited territory in central Africa is dwindling at an alarming rate. People would be in a better position to help this curious creature if they were more aware of its precarious position.
Second, it denies humans the opportunity to learn about themselves. When people try to understand why they are the way they are, they often look back at their evolutionary heritage, and when they do, they call to mind the aggressive, shit-throwing chimpanzee. This is likely to give impression that violence and hostility are an inherent part of human nature.
But bonobos, just as close a human relative, are peaceful and loving. While chimps are often seen engaged in all-out war between rival troupes, there are no documented instance of bonobo murder. A better appreciation of the other side of the family tree would remind us that there are some decent strains in the gene pool.
Finally, bonobos could teach us a thing or two about our habits in the bedroom. Often, arguments against “nontraditional” sexual arrangements are justified by claims about what counts as natural. These people often assume that vanilla pair-bonding is the only configuration among our relatives in the wild.
But what could be more "natural" than the activities of our closest ape relative? If natural is what apes do in the jungle, then these sticklers had better abandon their outdated notions of the nuclear family and start sketching out their plans to keep the pace with their natural bonobo cousins. Perhaps engaging in some furious same-sex G-G (genital-genital) rubbing--common practice amongst the bonobos--would be a good place to start.
Even further, many purists suggests that, since sex is “meant for” reproduction, any act that isn’t performed with the explicit intention of making babies is abnormal, even sinful.
Bonobo behavior belies such misguided arguments. Because they creatively use sex to accomplish such an inspiring menagerie of social goals, bonobos demonstrate the multiple levels of intrinsic value sex can produce. They show that the notion that sex is merely for making babies is as simplistic as thinking a Thanksgiving meal--with its deeply entrenched traditions and opportunity to enrich bonds with friends and family--is just about getting some calories into the bloodstream.
Overall, then, we ought to encourage zoos to give a home to the bonobo. I believe Americans can handle it. So what if some straight-laced lady gets exposed to the overly gritty details of a steamy ape action scene? Maybe she'll learn something.