Over the summer, my two new roommates and I took a girl-bonding trip to the Columbus Zoo. What can we say? We find rescued animals much more interesting than the latest fashion trends at Macy’s. We walked through exhibits from all over the world, got an impromptu tour of the manatees, and took more than enough pictures. However, what I didn’t expect was a lesson in peace from apes.
The bonobo, closely related to the chimpanzee and humans, is on the Red List of endangered species. The most fascinating part of this exhibit, however, was the sign in front of the bonobos’ habitat. “Peaceable Kingdom,” it read, using the language of Stanley Hauerwas, a prolific theologian and ethicist. This could additionally reflect the Quaker ideals represented in Edward Hicks’ painting, portraying a peaceful scene of animals and children from the book of Isaiah.
It explains the bonds between these apes. The female bonobos, especially mothers, are extremely sociable and get along well with both male and female bonobos. This allows the apes to live both in small and large communities—up to 200 in a single group! Very little conflict occurs within these groups due to their cliché, but entirely legitimate, way of living: “Make love, not war.” This quote held its own spot on the bonobos’ exhibit, and yes, it means exactly what the peace-mongering hippies of the ‘60s intended: “The hallmark of bonobo society is its use of sexual activity to help keep peace!” Granted this is probably not the method we as humans should use to reduce conflict, the bonobos and science alike have proven that this methodology does in fact relieve tensions.
We might not take a literal lesson from the bonobos, but if apes can strive for peace, why shouldn’t we find a way that works for us? Even if we don’t take the lesson from them, ideas of peace and community were scattered about the entire zoo, including one by Martin Luther: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” I think if anything is to be learned from the zoo community, it is to move forward in peace, hope, and love—“not war.”
Emily Wirtz is a Peace Scholar and student intern with the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.