There were three apes in the tree, a young bonobo, an older bonobo and a chimpanzee. Normally you wouldn’t find the two species of the genus pan together, but these were strange times indeed. Something had happened to the Congo river so that their normally separated habitats had become combined. What is more a pestilence was sweeping the land killing bonobos and chimpanzees alike. They could see at least two dead apes from their tree. Furthermore something had driven big cats into their territory so that it was unsafe to be on the ground. The three apes had been in the tree for a while, too frightened to leave for fear of the pestilence and the large cats.
The apes occupied different parts of the tree. The two bonobos stayed close, up high. The chimpanzee remained in the lower branches. The bonobos liked each other and occasionally would chatter to keep their spirits up in the difficult times. The chimpanzee hated this and would bare his teeth aggressively, especially at the younger bonobo. These telling offs were normal for male dominated chimpanzee society but they were deeply disturbing for the bonobos, who are generally more peaceful than their cousins.
Luckily the tree was full of fruit so there was plenty to eat at first, but as the days went by the food started to get scarce. From their interactions the older bonobo understood that the younger bonobo was thinking of moving on despite the risks. The elder ape was saddened by the thought of the loss of his friend. He also worried about being alone in the tree with the chimpanzee.
One night, just as it was getting dark, the older bonobo noticed a female in the neighbouring tree. He strained his eyes in the dusk and realised that he knew her. In happier times he had been close with this other bonobo. He called to her and she turned around at first with a look of surprise, but then with a smile. They communicated through gestures. The older bonobo was keen to keep the noise down for fear of angering the chimpanzee. Even though they were in separate trees the older bonobo’s heart was warmed by the interactions with his female friend. Eventually the two of them grew tired and they both curled up to sleep each in their respective trees. Their eyes closed on the vision of each other.
The older bonobo woke first with the pangs of hunger. He moved through the tree to seek some food. He planned to eat something and then go back to his sleeping spot and once again fall asleep with his female friend in view. As his hand grasped a piece of fruit he heard the screech of the chimpanzee he turned to see the ape aggressively baring his teeth at him. It all happened so quickly. He turned to see his sleeping friend, now woken with the comotion, scurrying away through her tree. She was soon out of sight.
Male bonobos are generally less aggressive than male chimpanzees, but they can still show anger. Now the older bonobo bared his teeth and ran through the tree towards the chimpanzee, who cowered, for this was the first time either of the bonobos had equalled his aggression. The older bonobo stopped and headed back to his sleeping place. There he lay and there he stayed. The younger bonobo came over to comfort him to no avail.
A day passed and then another. The younger bonobo brought him food but he barely ate. Eventually the younger bonobo made the decision to go. His older friend watched listlessly as he climbed down from their tree and scurried north. Now it was just him and the chimpanzee. The older bonobo was deeply troubled by the aggression he had displayed. The last time he had shown such anger was as a young ape. He lay in the same place occasionally picking at the food that his friend had left. It was maybe on the third day that he saw her again.
The female bonobo was back in the same spot, where she had fallen asleep. She was gesturing at him to follow her. His weakness of the past few days seemed to melt away. With his strength returning he ran down the tree. He didn’t even look at the chimpanzee. He didn’t care about the big cats anymore as he scurried across the ground to her tree. He climbed into its branches towards her. As he got close she gestured again and started to move. He followed.
They went mostly from tree to tree but there were occasional patches across the ground. The female was always careful to look out for the big cats. They crossed the last patch of ground into a huge clump of trees. As he climbed he sensed that they were no longer alone. He looked around and saw maybe ten pairs of eyes all staring at him, all bonobos.
The troop was wary of the old bonobo at first, maybe because of the pestilence. They kept their distance for a few days. There were twenty of them in all, some of whom he had met before. They were all much younger than him. As the days passed he felt himself changing. He started to realise that just being in the presence of a chimpanzee had altered him, making him uneasy and defensive. Now amongst bonobos he started to relax. He regained his appetite and started to feel a permanent vitality, so different to the adrenaline fueled strength that had powered his journey. The biggest change however was love. The love within the troupe was far more infectious than the pestilence. He couldn’t help catching it and he couldn’t help passing it on.
The clump of trees was full of fruit and other food. The troop was happy. Eventually the big cats were less and less visible and they saw no more dead apes. They would venture down from the trees and collect other food. Life started to return to normal for the bonobos. As it did so the older bonobo became more and more bobobo and less and less chimpanzee.
One day, a while after connecting with the troupe, the older bonobo lay, resting and content, in his sleeping spot. Two other bonobos relaxed within touching distance of the new grandad of the troupe. He thought of the chimpanzee. His world view seemed so different to the bonobos, all about rules and domination. So defensive and closed. So little room to accept love. How could he live like that? How could the chimpanzee live without a loving troupe? Indeed how had he, the older bonobo, managed it for so long? He couldn’t fathom it, maybe he never would, for after all they were two different species.