Faculty Mentor

Anne E. Pfister, PhD, Assistant Professor

Faculty Mentor Department

Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work


Bonobos are one of our closest living primate relatives. They are primarily known for their unique social structure and sexual behavior. In their native setting, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bonobos are often seen engaging in sexual behaviors not only for reproduction, but for social reasons too. Unfortunately, research in the wild is difficult because of political unrest and rapidly declining population numbers. Since bonobos are endangered, it is crucial that we maintain and properly care for a captive population to ensure the survival of the species. A captive setting provides a safe, controlled environment for researchers to observe bonobos and their normal range of behaviors. While captivity is beneficial to the species, I propose that there are differences between wild and captive populations of bonobos due to the behavioral and biological controls that captivity requires. The behavior of bonobos differs substantially from their own relatives, chimpanzees, yet they are viewed by zoos as biologically similar. This thesis presents the argument for an anthropological perspective in the management and care of captive bonobos.