Leadership of old females in collective departures in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus) at Wamba

  • Nahoko TokuyamaEmail author
  • Takeshi Furuichi
Original Article


Group-living animals need to coordinate their activity in order to maintain gregariousness. Although individuals have their own nutritional, social, and reproductive needs, they have to reach consensus to decide where and when to travel. Collective movements are the outcome of one individual’s departure, who is then followed by other group members. We investigated departure initiation in a group of bonobos at Wamba, DR Congo, to determine the distribution of leadership among group members. If three or more bonobos started moving more than 30 m, we assigned the individual who moved first as the one who initiated the movement. Two hundred and fifty-four departures were observed. First, we examined whether the frequency of initiation differed according to the following attributes of individuals: sex, age, stage in sexual swelling cycle, dominance, and affiliative relationship. We also examined whether one or more individual(s) initiate departure more or less frequently than expected by chance. A significant interaction between sex and age was found, indicating that the effect of age was greater among females than among males. Individuals who were more central to the grooming network initiated departures more frequently. The three oldest females initiated more often than expected. Old females may be followed because of coalitionary supports they often give to younger females, and of their greater knowledge about ranging area. Leadership in bonobos was not equally shared among group members, and old females were “key individuals” who helped to maintain cohesiveness in their fission-fusion society.

Significance statement

When group-living animals travel from one location to another, they must coordinate when and where to travel; otherwise, they might spread apart. Bonobos are one of our closest living relatives and have a fission-fusion social system. We investigated the initiation of group departure in wild bonobos to determine the distribution of leadership among group members. We found that the frequency of initiation was associated with the individual’s age, affiliative relationships, and male dominance rank. The three oldest females initiated departures more frequently than expected, suggesting that these individuals were habitual initiators and took an important role to preserve cohesiveness. We discuss how this “old female leadership” may emerge in a male-philopatric society.


Bonobos Collective movement Fission-fusion Initiation Leadership Pan paniscus 



We thank the Research Centre for Ecology and Forestry and the Ministry of Scientific Research, Democratic Republic of the Congo. We especially thank our local assistants, Iyokango Bahanande, Emikei Besao, Bafike Batuafe, Isolumbo Batoafe, and Mboka Batondonga, for their help in the forest. We thank Tetsuya Sakamaki, Mbomba Bekeli, Takakazu Yumoto, Shinya Yamamoto, Cintia Garai, Heungjin Ryu, Kirsty Graham, Saeko Terada, and Kazuya Toda for their help during field research and for their fruitful discussions. We thank members of the Ecology and Social Behavior section of the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards


This study was financially supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) ITP-HOPE Project (to NT), JSPS Research Fellowships for Young Scientist (to NT), and Global Leadership Training Program in Africa provided by United Nations University (to NT), and JSPS Grants-in-aid for Scientific Research (to TF).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Our study was approved by the Ministry of Scientific Research, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and conformed to the Guidelines for Field Research established by the Ethics Committee of the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University. Our investigation followed the International Primatological Society guidelines for the study of non-human primates.

Supplementary material

265_2017_2277_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplemental Table 1 (DOCX 16 kb).


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Primate Research InstituteKyoto UniversityInuyamaJapan

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