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J Anat. 2004 May;204(5):353-61.

Locomotion in bonobos (Pan paniscus): differences and similarities between bipedal and quadrupedal terrestrial walking, and a comparison with other locomotor modes.

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Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Belgium.


One of the great ongoing debates in palaeo-anthropology is when, and how, hominids acquired habitual bipedal locomotion. The newly adopted bipedal gait and the ancestral quadrupedal gait are most often considered as very distinct, with each habitual locomotor mode showing corresponding anatomical adaptations. Bonobos (Pan paniscus), along with common chimpanzees (P. troglodytes), are the closest living relatives to humans and their locomotion is valuable for comparison with other primates, and to gain an insight in the acquisition of human bipedalism. Bonobos are habitual quadrupeds, but they also engage in bipedal locomotion, both on terrestrial and in arboreal substrates. In terms of kinematics and dynamics, the contrast between bipedal and quadrupedal walking seems to be more subtle than one might expect. Apart from the trunk being approximately 37 degrees more erect during bipedal locomotion, the leg movements are rather similar. Apart from the heel, plantar pressure distributions show subtle differences between bipedal and quadrupedal locomotion. Regardless, variability is high, and various intermediate forms of locomotion (e.g. tripedal walking) exist both in captivity and in the wild. Moreover, there is overlap between the characteristics of walking and other locomotor modes, as we show with new data of walking on an inclined pole and of vertical squat jumps. We suggest that there is great overlap between the many locomotor modes in bonobos, and that the required polyvalence is reflected in their anatomy. This may hamper the development of one highly specialized gait (i.e. bipedalism), which would constrain performance of the other types of locomotion.

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