, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 210–217 | Cite as

Social structures in Pan paniscus: testing the female bonding hypothesis

  • Jeroen M. G. Stevens
  • Hilde Vervaecke
  • Han De Vries
  • Linda Van Elsacker
Original Article


Based on previous research in captivity, bonobos, Pan paniscus, have been called a female-bonded species. However, genetic and behavioural data indicate that wild females migrate. Bonding between these unrelated females would then be in contradiction with socio-ecological models. It has been argued that female bonding has been overemphasized in captive bonobos. We examine patterns of proximity, grooming and support behaviour in six well established captive groups of bonobos. We find that female bonding was not a typical characteristic of all captive bonobo groups. In only two groups there was a trend for females to prefer proximity with other females over association with males. We found no evidence that following or grooming between females was more frequent than between males and unrelated females or between males. Only in coalitions, females supported each other more than male–female or male–male dyads. We also investigated five mother–son pairs. Grooming was more frequent among mothers and sons than in any other dyad, but sons did not groom their mothers more than males groomed unrelated females. Mothers groomed their sons, or provided more support to them than females groomed or supported unrelated males. Thus, while bonds between females were clearly present, intersexual relations between males and either unrelated females or their mothers are of more, or equal importance.


Captivity Coalitions Grooming Pan paniscus Social bonding 



We are grateful to the directory and keepers of Planckendael Wild Animal Park (Belgium), Apenheul Primate Park (The Netherlands), Wuppertal Zoo (Germany) and Twycross Zoo (UK) for their help and interest in this study. This research was funded by a Ph.D. grant of the Institution for the Promotion of Innovation through Science and Technology in Flanders (IWT-Vlaanderen: grant number 3340). We thank the Flemish Government for structural support of the Centre for Research and Conservation of the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Japan Monkey Centre and Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeroen M. G. Stevens
    • 1
    • 2
  • Hilde Vervaecke
    • 1
    • 2
  • Han De Vries
    • 3
  • Linda Van Elsacker
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  2. 2.Centre for Research and ConservationRoyal Zoological Society of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Behavioral BiologyUtrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

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