And they are all wrong about Chimpanzees too.
We knew from our observations in the Lomami forests and reports coming from further west that people kill and eat bonobos. Across the Congo River people kill and eat chimpanzees. But we had never heard of either chimpanzees or bonobos killing and eating each other.
How could they? They don’t live in the same forests. No one has yet reported a population of bonobos on the right bank of the Congo or a population of chimpanzees on the left bank of the Congo.
So I was truly surprised to read the Reuters report this week that said just that. It said “the researchers recorded over 10 instances when a group of the apes set out on hunting trips in search of chimpanzees”. The article was quite graphic: “the bonobos silently crept …trying to get underneath a group of chimps before clambering up a tree in a sudden attack, the researchers said.” The researchers who were supposedly being quoted were excellent scientists.
I wrote to Gottfried Hohmann, one of authors of the Current Biology article being paraphrased, and asked if it was true that bonobos and chimpanzees coexisted somewhere and that the bonobos hunted the chimpanzees. He was as surprised as I had been and sent me the article on which the Reuters piece was based.
The article by Surbeck and Hohmann is excellent. It clearly states the following:
- Bonobos were previously known to hunt mammals BUT unlike chimpanzees were Not thought to hunt in groups and NOT thought to hunt monkeys.
- They observed five cases of monkey-hunting by bonobos at LuiKotale, the Max Planck research center in Salonga National Park. Three of these hunts resulted in a monkey kill.
- In all cases the hunting party consisted of both male and female bonobos, and both sexes took active part in the hunting.
There was absolutely no mention in the article of bonobos and chimpanzees co-existing and consequently no possibility for bonobos to hunt chimpanzees, or vice versa.
The reporting by Reuters was just plain false.
Michael Kahn of Reuters is a science reporter and so he understands the disappointment researchers feel at such a mangled representation of their work.
I also believe that such light popularization of an endangered species, already locally extinct in many areas through the bushmeat trade, is a disservice to bonobos when they need all media support possible.
Update: on Oct. 23rd, a corrected version of the article was republished by Reuters, removing the instance where bonobos hunted chimps.