Ramón Rentería / El Paso Times Staff
Television can either enlighten or make you stupid.
So it was refreshing the other night to see ABC News' "Nightline" --
one of the few intellectual news programs on commercial TV -- put on
a segment about a monkey species some of us didn't even know existed.
Seems that the bonobo is about the nearest monkey relative we have
(unless you also count those distant cousins you see only at
funerals, weddings and your grandmother's estate sale).
According to the TV segment, bonobos live deep in the Congo tropical
forest in central Africa but share a lot in common with us. They
express emotions, make intelligent choices, form close-knit
societies, eat honey and worms (think tripitas) and even walk
upright. Their genetic makeup is 98.5 percent similar to ours.
And like a lot of other wildlife these days, bonobos are in constant
peril, at risk of extinction because of human poachers and other factors.
But the interesting revelation is that researchers sometimes refer to
bonobos as hippie monkeys because every time they start getting
aggressive toward each other, they end up making out instead. Kind of
like a sexy version of Conflict Resolution 101.
If you're too young to remember, hippies smoked marijuana, wore
sandals and long hair and hung out in San Francisco in the 1960s.
Their universal slogan: "Make love, not war."
The reporter covering the story said bonobos also are the only known
animals (besides ape-like humans) that have sex just for fun and not
only for official breeding purposes. And they enjoy recreational sex
with just about anybody in the group, sort of like they do in
Hollywood or Hugh Hefner's mansion.
So, we were observing all these really complex apes doing their thing
on national television, the censors blocking out what they could,
just in case the grandchildren were still awake. Any fifth-grader
with an imagination or an Internet-ready phone could have figured out this one.
And even though this was serious but not live television, you
wondered if the segment anchor, producers and all the technical
people suppressed a lot of laughter behind the scenes.
If you dig a little deeper, you'll learn that bonobos are tons more
peaceful than chimpanzees. And that indigenous people of Africa have
told stories for generations about how bonobos have more human
characteristics than we imagine. The lore is that in the distant past
bonobos not only told people what was edible in the forest but shared
a brotherhood with humans.
Scientists have studied bonobos in the wild and in captivity since
the mid-1970s. Maybe apes solved the peace riddle long ago.
Next time your wife or girlfriend wants to pick a fight or argue
about your relatives just back off, turn off "CSI New York" and say
with a straight face:
"Oye changa, let's pretend we're primate hippies."
Ramón Rentería may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org;546-6146.