Bonobo in Salonga, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
© Karl Ammann / WWF
Bonobos and chimpanzees look very similar, although bonobos are usually a bit smaller, leaner and darker than their "cousin" species. Their society is also different—bonobo groups tend to be more peaceful and are led by females. They also maintain relationships and settle conflicts through sex. However, bonobo life isn’t entirely violence free; if two groups of bonobos come together, they may engage in serious fighting.

Wild bonobos can only be found in forests south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Sometimes known as the pygmy chimpanzee, bonobos weren’t recognized as a separate species until 1929. As the last great ape to be scientifically described, much remains unknown about the bonobo—including the extent of its geographic range.

Efforts to survey the species over the past two decades have been hampered by the remote nature of its habitat, the patchiness of their distribution and years of civil unrest within the DRC. Turmoil and increasing poverty in the area around the forests inhabited by bonobos have contributed to poaching and deforestation. Though the size of the bonobo population is largely unknown, it has likely been declining for the last 30 years. Scientists believe that the decline will continue for the next 45 to 55 years due to the bonobo’s low reproductive rate and growing threats.

What we do


WWF has provided training, equipment and field supplies for the conservation organizations conducting surveys of bonobo populations. After the first survey of Salonga National Park found fewer bonobos than expected and greater amounts of human disturbance, additional efforts were made to monitor and protect these animals.


To combat the rampant problem of poaching, WWF has provided training, improved transportation, and communication and other field equipment for antipoaching units in Salonga National Park and helps the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) to establish sustainable funding for antipoaching activities in the park.


A survey of large mammals in the DRC’s Lac Télé-Lac Tumba Landscape revealed a previously unknown population of bonobos, with a higher density and larger group size than any other in their range. After this discovery, WWF helped to establish the Lac Tumba-Lediima Nature Reserve, working to protect this dwindling species.

Species quick facts

    10,000 to 50,000
    Pan paniscus
    28 to 35 inches
    68 to 86 pounds


Poaching: humans hunt bonobos to eat them, trade them as bushmeat, keep them as pets and for use in traditional medicine.

Civil warfare: civil unrest in the region around the bonobo’s home territory has led to many bonobo deaths.

Habitat loss: only part of the bonobo’s range lies in protected areas. A growing and moving human population, combined with slash-and-burn agriculture and commercial logging, leaves bonobos outside parks at risk of losing their homes.

Did you know?


Bonobos share 98.7% of their genetic code with humans, making them, along with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. As the last great ape to be scientifically discovered, much still remains unknown about the bonobo.

“Bonobos are fascinating creatures and little understood. They have the only great ape society led by females, with a sophisticated social structure that encourages cooperation and peace.” 

Dr. Richard Carroll Vice President, Africa Programme