THE estimable pop band Half Man Half Biscuit, composers of The Trumpton Riots, nearly got it right.
We are in fact half chimpanzee, half bonobo. I'm playing fast and loose with my fractions here, as you can probably add half of something else — human? — in there too.
But the point is there's more to us than just educated chimps. Indeed, the bonobo is the gentler of our two ape cousins. They're kinder, gentler, and more into mating than fighting. Scientists mapping the primate's DNA found we were as close genetically to the little-known bonobo as to the more infamous and violent chimp. We share 98.7% of our genetic blueprint with each.
A top scientist at the Max Planck Institute in yon Germany announced: "Humans are a little like a mosaic of bonobo and chimpanzee genomes." Another boffin added of the bonobos: "They don't have the dark side we do. If we only studied chimps, we'd get a skewed view of human evolution."
Peculiarly enough, bonobos developed on one side of the River Congo and chimps on the other. Talk about being born on the wrong side of the tracks. Thicko scientists didn't even realise they were two different species until 90 years ago. In a sense, the bonobos never grow up, while chimps get more violent as they age.
Chimps, alas, also have bigger brains – ever a source of trouble – and can use tools. If you took a chimp and a bonobo to Homebase, there'd only be one winner.
Meanwhile, what's left of the bonobos still live in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, where human behaviour is often at its worst. But we can change. We can turn away from our chimp side and get in touch with our inner bonobo.
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