Dominance and its behavioral measures in a captive group of bonobos (Pan paniscus)

H Vervaecke*, Han de Vries, L van Elsacker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We investigated the existence of a social dominance hierarchy in the captive group of six adult bonobos at the Planckendael Zoo. We quantified the pattern of dyadic exchange of a number of behaviors to examine to what extent each behavior fits a linear rank order model. Following de Waal (1989), we distinguish three types of dominance: agonistic dominance, competitive ability and formal dominance. Fleeing upon aggression is a good measure of agonistic dominance. The agonistic dominance hierarchy in the study group shows significant and strong linearity. The rank order was: I. female (22 yr), 2. female (15 yr)., 3. male (23 yr.), 4. female (15 yr.), 5. male (9 yr.), 6. male (10 yr.). As in the wild, the females occupy high ranks. There is prominent bur nonexclusive female agonistic dominance. Teeth-baring does not fulfil the criteria of a formal submission signal. Peering is a request for tolerance of proximity. Since its direction within dyads is consistent with that of fleeing interactions, it is a useful additional measure to determine agonistic ranks in bonobos. In competitive situations, the females acquire more food than other group members do. The rank obtained from access to food resources differs from the agonistic rank due to female intrasexual social tolerance, expressed in food sharing. We typify the dominance styles in the group as female intrasexual tolerance and male challenging of rank differences. The agonistic rank order correlates significantly with age and has a strong predictive value for other social behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-68
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2000


  • Pan paniscus
  • agonistic dominance
  • competitive ability
  • formal dominance
  • social tolerance
  • dominance styles
  • SEX


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