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, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 61–96 | Cite as

Female relationships in bonobos(Pan paniscus)

Evidence for bonding, cooperation, and female dominance in a male-philopatric species
  • Amy Randall Parish
Article

Abstract

The popular belief that women are not naturally able to bond with each other is often supported by theoretical and empirical evidence that unrelated females do not bond in nonhuman primate species. Bonobos (rare and endangered African apes, also known as pygmy chimpanzees) are (with their congener, chimpanzees) the closest living relatives of humans and appear to be an exception to this characterization. Data collected on individuals representing half of the world’s captive population reveal that bonobo females are remarkably skillful in establishing and maintaining strong affiliative bonds with each other despite being unrelated. Moreover, they control access to highly desirable food, share it with each other more often than with males, engage in same-sex sexual interactions in order to reduce tension, and form alliances in which they cooperatively attack males and inflict injuries. Their power does not stem from a size equality with or advantage over males (in fact, females average 82.5% of male size), but rather from cooperation and coalition formation. The immediate advantage to female alliances is increased control over food, the main resource on which their reproductive success depends, as well as a reduction in other costs typically associated with a female-biased dispersal system, such as male agonism in the contexts of feeding competition and sexual coercion. The ultimate advantage of friendly relationships among females is an earlier age at first reproduction, which results in a large increase in lifetime reproductive success. Analysis of this bonding phenomenon sheds light on when, where, and how we should expect unrelated human females to bond with one another by demonstrating that bonding is not dependent on access to one’s relatives but rather on an environmental situation in which female aggregation is possible, coupled with an incentive for cooperation.

Key words

Affiliation Aggression Association Bonobo(Pan paniscus) Cooperation Female bonding First reproduction Food control Food sharing Sexual behavior 

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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Randall Parish
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of California-DavisDavis

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