Friday, March 03, 2006

'Hippie Chimps' Fast Disappearing in Congo

"Even as Congolese villagers devise novel ways to snare the fast-disappearing bonobo, scientists are racing to save the gentle 'hippie chimp' from extinction.

The bonobo, or pan paniscus, is closely related to man and known for resolving squabbles through sex rather than violence. It's also prized by some Congolese for its tasty meat. The wiry, wizened-faced chimps are being killed in treetop nests in Congo's vast rain forest, their only natural habitat in the world, by villagers who do not seem to know how fast their prey is disappearing.

'Bonobos are an icon for peace and love, the world's 'hippie chimps,'' said Sally Coxe of the Washington-based Bonobo Conservation Initiative. 'To let them die off would be a catastrophe.'

Bonobos are known for greeting rival groups with genital handshakes and sensual body rubs. Bonobo spats are swiftly settled - often with a French kiss and a quick round of sex.

Despite all the sex, female bonobos give birth to a single infant only once every five years, making the species especially vulnerable.

As few as 5,000 bonobos may now remain in Congo, down from an estimated 100,000 in 1984, according to primatologist Ino Guabini of the World Wildlife Fund.

"There is no question that bonobos are seriously threatened," Guabini said, speaking over a shrill forest symphony of birds, animals and insects. 'We need urgent measures or there is no way we can protect the species.'"

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