Gestural communication in subadult bonobos (Pan paniscus): repertoire and use

S. Pika, Katja Liebal, M. Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article aims to provide an inventory of the communicative gestures used by bonobos (Pan paniscus), based on observations of subadult bonobos and descriptions of gestural signals and similar behaviors in wild and captive bonobo groups. In addition, we focus on the underlying processes of social cognition, including learning mechanisms and flexibility of gesture use (such as adjustment to the attentional state of the recipient). The subjects were seven bonobos, aged 1–8 years, living in two different groups in captivity. Twenty distinct gestures (one auditory, eight tactile, and 11 visual) were recorded. We found individual differences and similar degrees of concordance of the gestural repertoires between and within groups, which provide evidence that ontogenetic ritualization is the main learning process involved. There is suggestive evidence, however, that some form of social learning may be responsible for the acquisition of special gestures. Overall, the present study establishes that the gestural repertoire of bonobos can be characterized as flexible and adapted to various communicative circumstances, including the attentional state of the recipient. Differences from and similarities to the other African ape species are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-61
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005


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