When: Wed., June 9, 7:30 p.m. 2010
By now, everyone's heard that chimpanzees are our closest living relatives and that we share some 98 percent of our genetic code with them. What's less well known is that there are two types of chimp: the troglodyte variety (e.g., Bubbles and Bonzo) and the bonobo, or pygmy chimpanzee, an endangered subspecies found only the Congo. Unlike the common chimpanzee, bonobos have never been observed killing their own kind. The social bonds in their matriarchal bands are cemented, and conflicts resolved, with frequent bouts of mating and sex play. Bonobos make love, not war.
Vanessa Woods, a researcher at Duke and at the Lola Ya Bonobo research center in the Congo, tells of her work with the gentle apes in her new book, Bonobo Handshake. By her telling, she found her calling by chance when she fell in love with a young primatologist named Brian Hare; the book recounts (somewhat dizzily) their brief courtship and marriage, while weaving in sketches of the people and animals she met, interspersed with an overview of Congolese history. The tone is more Bridget Jones than Jane Goodall, but if valor is the better part of primate research, Woods' fearlessness in getting on intimate (really intimate) terms with her simian subjects is mighty impressive—that "bonobo handshake" in the title doesn't involve hand-to-hand contact. —Marc Maximov