Bonobos facing extinction


The rare Bonobo ape – formerly known as the pygmy chimpanzee – faces a serious menace to its continued survival due to the activities of humans, scientists say.

The bonobo is perhaps most widely known for being one of the few species apart from some humans (and as it turns out, fruitbats) to routinely perform fellatio as part of sexual activity. A new scientific study reveals, however, that the fun-loving apes’ very survival is seriously threatened by predatory humans.

“Bonobos that live in closer proximity to human activity and to points of human access are more vulnerable,” says Dr Janet Nackoney, a professor at Maryland uni. “Our results point to the need for more places where bonobos can be safe … which is an enormous challenge in the [war-torn Congo, which is the only place the bonobos are found].”

A press release issued to highlight Nackoney and her colleagues’ study says:

The bonobo is smaller in size and more slender in build than the common chimpanzee. The great ape’s social structure is complex and matriarchal. Unlike the common chimpanzee, bonobos establish social bonds and diffuse tension or aggression with sexual behaviors.

It seems that human aggression is a major problem for the bonobo, which perhaps understandably “avoids areas of high human activity …

“As little as 28 percent of the bonobo’s range remains suitable,” the press announcement adds.

“For bonobos to survive over the next 100 years or longer, it is extremely important that we understand the extent of their range, their distribution, and drivers of that distribution,” says Ashley Vosper of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Bonobos are probably the least understood great ape in Africa, so this paper is pivotal in increasing our knowledge and understanding of this beautiful and charismatic animal.”

Despite the bonobos’ somewhat louche reputation, it seems that there’s nothing salacious about local humans’ interest in them: but the people of the area do hunt apes and monkeys for food, and destruction or partial destruction of forest by farmers is also a major turn-off for the cheery apes. Scientists hope that more terrain suitable for bonobos to live in can be classified as national park – or perhaps discovered within existing parks or otherwise-protected areas.

“The future of the bonobo will depend on the close collaboration of many partners working towards the conservation of this iconic ape,” says Dr Liz Williamson of the International Union for Conservation and Nature Primate Specialist Group.

The new study is published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Kelp gulls may be responsible for the worst-ever Right Whale die-off


Scientists still don’t know why hundreds of baby southern right whales are turning up dead around Patagonia, a decade after observers first saw signs of the worst die-off on record for the species, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

With no evidence of infectious diseases or deadly toxins in whale tissue samples, scientists are scrambling to determine a cause of death. Some are even pointing a finger at blubber-eating birds.

The whales come to the peaceful Atlantic bays around Peninsula Valdes along Argentina’s Patagonian Coast to give birth and raise their young. At least 605 dead right whales have been counted in the region since 2003, WCS officials say. Of those, 538 were newborn calves. Last year, the mortality event was especially severe, with a record-breaking 116 whale deaths, 113 of them calves.

“In 2012 we lost nearly one-third of all calves born at the Peninsula,” said Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas in Argentina. “Southern right whales have their first calf when they are nine years old on average. This means that it won’t be until a decade from now that we will see a significant reduction in the number of calves born, as all of the female calves that died will not be contributing any new offspring to the population,” Sironi, who is also an advisor to the Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, added in a statement.

Sironi and colleague Vicky Rowntree, who is co-director of the monitoring program, have studied a strange phenomena that could be stressing southern right whales. They say kelp gulls at Peninsula Valdes land on the backs of the cetaceans to eat their skin and blubber.

“The attacks are very painful and cause large, deep lesions, particularly on the backs of young 2-6 week-old calves,” the researchers said in a statement from WCS. “This harassment can last for hours at a time. As a result, right whale mothers and their calves are expending much precious energy during a time of year when mothers are fasting and at a site where little to no food is available to replenish fat reserves.”

The situation is discouraging for a species that had made a significant comeback since its population was depleted by the whaling industry.

“The southern right whale population is still only a small fraction of its original size, and now we have reason to worry about its recovery,” Rowntree said.

Though the southern right whale is not listed as endangered, conservationists warn that the species’ sister populations could go extinct if hit with a mysterious die-off on this scale. For instance, there are thought to be just about 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining.

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.