Simply click on this link, type in your name, click “pledge now” and $1 will be donated to the Borneo Orangutan Rescue Foundation on your behalf at no cost to you. (Orangutans are endangered due to habitat destruction.)
Culture In Humans And Apes Has The Same Evolutionary Roots
Culture is not a trait that is unique to humans. By studying orangutan populations, a team of researchers headed by anthropologist Michael Krützen from the University of Zurich has demonstrated that great apes also have the ability to learn socially and pass them down through a great many generations. The researchers provide the first evidence that culture in humans and great apes has the same evolutionary roots, thus answering the contentious question as to whether variation in behavioral patterns in orangutans are culturally driven, or caused by genetic factors and environmental influences.
In humans, behavioral innovations are usually passed down culturally from one generation to the next through social learning. For many, the existence of culture in humans is the key adaptation that sets us apart from animals. Whether culture is unique to humans or has deeper evolutionary roots, however, remains one of the unsolved questions in science.
About ten years ago, biologists who had been observing great apes in the wild reported a geographic variation of behavior patterns that could only have come about through the cultural transmission of innovations, much like in humans. The observation triggered an intense debate among scientists that is still ongoing. To this day, it is still disputed whether the geographical variation in behavior is culturally driven or the result of genetic factors and environmental influences.
Anthropologists from the University of Zurich have now studied whether the geographic variation of behavioral patterns in nine orangutan populations in Sumatra and Borneo can be explained by cultural transmission. “This is the case; the cultural interpretation of the behavioral diversity also holds for orangutans – and in exactly the same way as we would expect for human culture,” explains Michael Krützen, the first author of the study just published in Current Biology. The researchers show that genetic factors or environmental influences cannot explain the behavior patterns in orangutan populations. The ability to learn things socially and pass them on evolved over many generations; not just in humans but also apes. “It looks as if the ability to act culturally is dictated by the long life expectancy of apes and the necessity to be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions,” Krützen adds, concluding that, “Now we know that the roots of human culture go much deeper than previously thought. Human culture is built on a solid foundation that is many millions of years old and is shared with the other great apes.”
In their study, the researchers used the largest dataset ever compiled for a great ape species. They analyzed over 100,000 hours of behavioral data, created genetic profiles for over 150 wild orangutans and measured ecological differences between the populations using satellite imagery and advanced remote sensing techniques. “The novelty of our study,” says co-author Carel van Schaik, “is that, thanks to the unprecedented size of our dataset, we were the first to gauge the influence genetics and environmental factors have on the different behavioral patterns among the orangutan populations.” When the authors examined the parameters responsible for differences in social structure and behavioral ecology between orangutan populations, environmental influences and, to a lesser degree, genetic factors played an important role, proving that the parameters measured were the right ones. This, in turn, was pivotal in the main question as to whether genetic factors or environmental influences can explain the behavioral patterns in orangutan populations. “That wasn’t the case. As a result, we could prove that a cultural interpretation for behavioral diversity also holds true for orangutans,” van Schaik concludes.
Supposedly, if women live together their hormonal cycles start to synchronise, thanks to a pheromone. If that were true it would mean that they all have their period simultaneously. Just think about it.
This “menstrual synchrony” argument was first reported in 1971 by psychologist Martha McClintock, who noticed signs of it in her own college dorm. But it may not really exist. Studies have had mixed results, often reporting no synchrony at all.
Assamese macaques, however, have evolved an unmistakable kind of synchrony: they all have sex at the same time.
Assamese macaques live in troupes of a few dozen, including about a dozen adults of each sex, plus offspring. Although there are strong social bonds within the troupes, they are dominated by the males, who compete vigorously to mate with the females.
The mating season runs from October to January, and the males become increasingly aggressive as it goes on. The males do show some solidarity. If a female attacks a male, other males will rally to his defence. But it is the females who form close friendships with each other, while males are only loosely allied with their fellows.
The females also have ways of resisting the males’ control of the troupes, says Ines Fürtbauer of the University of Göttingen in Germany. For one thing, like human females, they do not show external signs of fertility, so males have no way of knowing whether the female they are mating with is actually able to conceive. The females mate throughout their cycles, further confusing the issue. As a result, the dominant males can’t monopolise fertile females. Instead each female mostly mates with her preferred male, regardless of how high-ranking he is – although she will mate with every male at some point.
This suggests that the females are trying to keep all the males friendly. Not knowing who fathered which baby, the males ought to refrain from killing young. In fact, Fürtbauer says, the young spend most of their time being cared for by the males.
It’s easier for a female to keep the males onside if she mates with all of them, but the dominant males will try to monopolise her. To find out how the females get around this problem, Fürtbauer and colleagues monitored a troupe of wild Assamese macaques in Thailand over two mating seasons. As well as monitoring their behaviour, they took samples of their dung: the hormone levels in it told the researchers where each female was in her cycle.
There was no sign of the females synchronising their hormonal cycles, but they did synchronise their sexual receptiveness. On a given day, each female was more likely to mate if other females were mating. Spoilt for choice, the alpha male could only mate with some of them, ensuring that the other females could mate with someone else.
Fürtbauer thinks the females are working together to thwart the dominant males, ensuring that each female can sleep around without getting punished for it.
Young Genes Correlated With Evolution Of Human Brain
Young genes that appeared after the primate branch split off from other mammal species are more likely to be expressed in the developing human brain, a new analysis finds. The correlation suggests that evolutionarily recent genes, which have been largely ignored by scientists thus far, may be responsible for constructing the uniquely powerful human brain. The findings are published October 18 in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology.
"We found that there is a correlation between new gene origination and the evolution of the brain," said senior author Manyuan Long, PhD, Professor of Ecology & Evolution at the University of Chicago. "There are some 50 to 60 human-specific genes in the frontal cortex of the brain, the part that makes humans diverge with other non-human primates."
Scientists have long sought to solve the riddle of how the human brain evolved the unique anatomy and functional capacity that separate us from our primate ancestors. With the completion of the Human Genome Project and the growing availability of genome sequences for our primate relatives and other species, researchers have looked to genetics for answers. From these studies, many scientists have hypothesized that differential regulation of conserved genes shared across species, rather than the arrival of new, species-specific protein-encoding genes, was responsible for the dramatically different human brain.
However, in a 2010 study, Long’s laboratory discovered that the younger, species-specific genes could be just as important to an organism’s development as older, conserved genes. For the new paper in PLoS Biology, first author Yong Zhang, PhD, and colleagues merged a database of gene age with transcription data from humans and mice to look for when and where young genes, specific to each species, are expressed. The researchers found that a higher percentage of primate-specific young genes were expressed in brain than mouse-specific young genes. Human-specific young genes were also more likely to be seen in fetal brain, when the organ is developing, and in the brain structures uniquely elaborated in primates such as neocortex and prefrontal cortex.
The authors stress that their finding is only a correlation between the appearance of young, human-specific genes and the evolutionary appearance of advanced brain structures. Future research will look at the function of these genes and the role they may have played in building the unique human brain. One intriguing feature is that many of the new genes appear to code for novel proteins, rather than merely tweaking the regulation of older, conserved proteins.
"Traditionally, people don’t believe that a new protein or new gene can play any role in an important process. Most people only pay attention to the regulation of genes," Long said. "But out of a total of about 1,300 new genes, only 13 percent were involved in new regulation. The rest, some 1,100 genes, are new genes that bring a whole new type of function."
Cooperation, that fine art of working together toward a common goal, is more appealing to children than to chimpanzees, a new study reports.
“Human society is based on collaborative activities,” said one of the authors, Yvonne Rekers, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “We engage in collaborative activities all day long, whether it’s pushing carts or building skyscrapers.”
Chimpanzees also cooperate with one another — for instance, they work together to patrol the borders of their social group’s territory — but “the degree and range is less than humans,” said Ms. Rekers, who performed the study as part of her doctoral research. She and her colleagues published their findings in the journal Current Biology.
The researchers presented children and chimpanzees with a task that they could choose to perform on their own or with a peer. The subjects had to pull two ends of a rope on their own or with the help of a partner to get a reward (candy for the children, bananas for the chimps).
About 78 percent of the time, the children chose to work with a partner. Our primate cousins elected to use a partner only 58 percent of the time.
“There was no benefit; they always had the same payoff,” Ms. Rekers said. “But humans preferred to solve the task together.”
It is unclear exactly why children show this preference. Further study could help understand whether children cooperate simply because they enjoy it, she said.
She also suggested conducting a similar study with bonobos, a primate species whose social traits closely mirror those of humans. That could help trace the evolutionary history of cooperation in primates.
From The New York Times
Baby Gorilla On Black Market For $40,000 Is Rescued
The black market for baby gorillas is growing, officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday, after a fourth incident this year led to the arrest of alleged poachers trying to sell one infant for $40,000.
This year marks “the highest number of baby gorillas confiscated from poachers in a single year on record,” the Congolese Wildlife Authority said in a statement.
"We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel controlled areas," said Emmanuel de Merode, warden of Congo’s Virunga National Park. "We are powerless to control the international trade in baby gorillas, but our rangers are doing everything they can to stamp it out on the ground."
The park, Africa’s oldest, is home to mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and buffalo. The park has also seen fighting inside its borders and nearby during an ongoing 12-year civil war.
The four rescues so far this year, which happened between April and last Thursday, follow the one to two a year saved since 2003, when accurate records were first kept, park spokeswoman LuAnne Cadd told msnbc.com.
"If four have been caught since April, the question is how many have been missed?" she asked. "How many more are being captured and sold?"
The latest rescue came when Virunga rangers, acting on a tip, posed as potential buyers of the infant, an eastern lowland gorilla that was hidden inside a small backpack. The three suspects, who wanted $40,000, were arrested once the undercover rangers had possession of the gorilla.
"Like all the infant gorillas we see immediately after confiscation, he was extremely tense and stressed, holding his legs and arms tight up against his body, and turning his head away when he got too frightened," said Jan Ramer, a veterinarian with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project (MGVP) who treated the gorilla afterwards.
Ranger Christian Shamavu, who headed the undercover operation, said that “it’s very likely that the mother and other gorillas were killed because it’s very difficult to take a baby gorilla from its family.”
De Merode said the selling price for infant gorillas can run from about $15,000 to $40,000.
"No one knows for certain who the buyers are," Cadd said. "The suspicion is possibly for zoos in places like Russia, India; or wealthy people who have personal zoos of exotic animals.
"When poachers have been caught," she added, "it is usually the supplier, or the middleman, but never the buyer."
"The rescues are usually the result of tips," Cadd noted. "Gorillas are in the top category of protected species here in Congo and so it is illegal to kill or take one. The punishment is 1-10 years depending on whether it’s a killing, which would result in the highest sentence, or if it’s a first, second, etc., offense on taking a gorilla."
Poachers never admit to killing other gorillas to get to infants, Cadd said, “because the punishment for this is so much greater.”
Rescued baby gorillas are quarantined for 30 days while MGVP veterinarians run health checks. Eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer’s gorillas, usually are then sent to an orphan gorilla sanctuary near the town of Butembo.
"Many of these infants are injured from ropes around their hands/feet or waist, and some are quite ill, which is not surprising, as they are generally in close contact with their human captors, extremely stressed, and with very poor nutrition," said Ramer.
For now, the baby gorilla rescued last week is getting 24-hour care because he “is too young and vulnerable to be left alone,” Virunga National Park said in a blogpost.
Two caretakers “will even sleep with him at night on the same bed,” the park stated. “If you can imagine a human one-and-a-half year old, this baby is in a similar stage of life, and he needs some consistency in care in order to bond and feel safe.”
Cadd said it’s unlikely the orphan would be able to return to the wild and would instead spend its life in the sanctuary.
"It’s a heated topic among vets and conservationists," she said. "Some think they should be put back and let nature take its course. Others say never when all experience shows that the babies just die. Others think that if you can create a family from the orphans with various ages, then releasing them together will work. And others worry about them carrying human diseases that they have built up immunities to back to the wild population of gorillas and creating a disaster of plague proportions."
A tiny baby clings to it’s father’s fur at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand…. a bit of a surprise to the Keepers there Friday morning. They had suspected that now-mom Piccu was pregnant, but at some point during the night on October 6, the Zoo’s 6th Pygmy marmoset came into the world.
The baby’s sex won’t be determined for 30-60 days when it has it’s first well-baby check up. During that time, in fact up until about three months, the father will continue to carry the baby, excpet when it goes back to it’s mother to nurse. Once gender is determined, the Keepers will come up with a name.
Pygmy marmosets are the smallest monkey in the world, with an adult weighing about 3-5 ounces (85-140 gms) and from head to tail reaching the length of about 13 inches (330 mm). They are not listed as Endangered but they are in danger of becoming such due primarily to habitat destruction. The fact that they are extrememly adaptable to their environment helps quite a bit. They live in the Amazon rainforest of Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Peru and can be found high up in trees near riverbeds.
A notorious experimenter and primate supplier wants the U.S.’ help tormenting more monkeys in laboratories.
Frank Ervin, a vivisector from McGill University, operates the Behavioral Sciences Foundation/Primate Resources International on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, which pays trappers to remove vervet monkeys from the wild so that they can be imprisoned in laboratories. The facility crams many monkeys into wooden crates and sends them on a terrifying journey in the dark cargo holds of airplanes to the U.S. and other countries to be tortured and killed in experiments. Ervin also performs his own deadly experiments on monkeys. These disturbing photos, leaked to PETA, are allegedly of monkeys killed in Ervin’s cruel experiments on fetal alcohol syndrome:
Ervin wants the U.S. to buy even more monkeys to experiment on, since, in his opinion, the monkeys are “agricultural predators” because they sometimes eat farmers’ crops. We’re sure that’s the reason he wants the U.S. to purchase the animals, not because of the profit that he stands to make. The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) has launched an initiative against importing the monkeys from St. Kitts, including sharing that St. Kitts’ own Ministry of Agriculture advocates for spaying and neutering and strategically placed feeding stations to control the monkey population and keep them away from crops.
Wow, the amount of porn/scam/spam/fake blogs liking my posts, in particular this one, for some reason, is ridiculous. Pro-tip: liking the posts of a Primatology blog when your username is something like SeXXX29627 or Jenny000994u738, and your picture is either of breasts, penis, or vagina is NOT going to get me to refer to your page.
At least the messages from that Summer ‘girl’ trying to get me to find ‘her’ FB page to look at objectifying pictures have stopped…
While it may not be as socially acceptable among humans, a female choosing to take multiple mates is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom. But why the practice of polyandry (a female having more than one male mate at a time) is so prominent is still a mystery in most species.
Most theories predict that taking multiple mates would be risky for a female without adding benefits. However, new research finds that in gray mouse lemurs, a type of small primate from Madagascar, healthy females seek out multiple mates in the few hours of one night they are receptive to mating every year. These multiple mates must confer some kind of benefit to the females, though exactly how they benefit is unknown.
"Males get benefits from mating with multiple females, because they can impregnate multiple partners," study researcher Elise Huchard, of the German Primate Center in Göttingen, told LiveScience. "In most species, females only have a few oocytes [eggs], so mating with multiple males will not increase the number of offspring they will have."
During the intense few hours female lemurs mate annually, two things can happen — either different males chase one female up to 100 times an hour, with some chases ending successfully in mating, or one male monopolizes her the whole night.
The females have a choice to make: Either let these males exhaust them while hunting for food, or choose to hide from the males and miss a night of feeding. During their normal breeding season, females are typically smaller than males. To see if size guided the choice and larger females could fight off the males better, the researchers fed the females either a normal food or a reduced-calorie chow.
They then watched the females on their mating nights, in a cage with three male lemurs. They expected to see the larger females push off the unwanted, harassing suitors. Instead, the researchers saw the heavy females scurrying around their cages mating with multiple males. The skinny females were more likely to be monopolized by one male lemur, and had fewer mates overall.
"Polyandry might not respond only to sexual conflicts [harassment], but also provide benefits to females," Huchard said. "That’s probably quite general in animal societies; it’s been found in multiple studies in invertebrates."
There is some evidence that a type of cryptic choice between different sperm donors occurs in these gray mouse lemurs. Previous studies have found that female lemurs in the wild preferentially use the sperm from mates with certain genes that are different from hers. Researchers don’t know how, but after mating with multiple males, the females are able to choose which male fathers her baby lemurs. It’s possible she can distinguish between each mate’s sperm, and uses only that from the most compatible mates.
In other species, it seems a female’s ability to make a cryptic choice can offer benefits to her offspringl. The female can choose males that are better genetic matches, for example those that aren’t her close relatives, which would make for healthier offspring.
And so this cryptic choice in mouse lemurs could be one way that taking multiple mates can benefit females in the long run, allowing them to choose the best genetic match, the researchers said.
The study was published Tuesday (Oct. 4) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Escaped Gibbon Goes Walkabout In Central Hong Kong
A gibbon went walkabout in central Hong Kong Wednesday after giving zoo keepers the slip.
The endangered northern buffed-cheeked gibbon escaped while staff at the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens were cleaning his enclosure early Wednesday, a government spokesman said.
The government-run zoological gardens are located in the central area of the city close to the main finance and shopping areas. A search was immediately launched and the gibbon was discovered about two hours later hiding under a car not far from the zoo.
It was shot with an anaesthetic dart by veterinarians and after an examination was returned to its enclosure. The species, Nomascus annamensis, was discovered last year in the rainforests of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Hey, I'm Jess too :) I have always had a passion for primates beyond anything else in this world and I really admire and appreciate this amazing blog :) I was just wondering if you know anything about how Tarsiers are a kind of taxanomic anomalie in the way that they are isolated on phylogenetic trees? I saw something about it today and was just curious, cheers :) xx
It’s always great to hear about people with just as much love for these funny little relatives as myself! Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say :)
As far as Tarsiers go, there is still a great deal of debate around their classification - they have features of prosimians, monkeys, and apes and have been classified and reclassified to and from simians and prosimians a number of times. They have been grouped into their own little family, with only one genus - Tarsius, and are currently in the suborder Haplorhini, but this is still debated.
They’re also rather ancient - their relatives go back to around 54 Million years ago, and really, they haven’t changed a great deal.
They are smaller than most prosimians, but share the grooming claws and nocturnal habits - although they lack the tapetum of nocturnal prosimians. This lack of tapetum is shared with the anthropoids, and the structure of the eye socket is like that of the apes and monkeys, rather than prosimians. The inner structure of the ear and nose are more like monkeys. Uniquely, they only have 2 incisors, not 4, in the lower jaw, and can rotate the head by 180 degrees.
They also share features with monkeys, particularly New World, such as partly hairless tails, and long, feet - first leaps from tree to tree - they can leap across gaps of 10 feet, which, considering they only weigh 100 - 150 grams is pretty impressive! They have elongated tarsal bones, which fold with the thigh and feet bones into a concertina shape, and mean that their legs are around about one and a half times the length of the body and head combined. This makes for a powerful hind-leg ‘push off’. The back legs and then bought forward to land on, and absorb the shock of the impact. However, they can also hop around terrestrially, with their tails up in the air - similar to lemurs.
So, you see, they can’t really be put into one group of another, and being classified as an ‘anomaly’ actually makes the most sense. If they are put into any one group, they have features that clash and are at odds with the classification.
I really hope this helps and answers your question - I’m only starting to get to grips with taxonomy myself - it can sometimes cause a bit of a headache…
Great News! Mattel And Barbie Drop The Deforestation
You read that right – following over half a million emails sent by you, Barbie has realised that toying with deforestation is no game. Mattel, the company behind Barbie, has decided that being involved in the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests is bad for business as well as the planet, and has dropped deforestation from its production line.
It was Barbie’s shameful deforestation habit that forced Ken to break up with her back in June: she had destroyed rainforest in her toy packaging. Mattel was using products from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a pulp and paper company notorious for destroying Indonesian rainforests, including the habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger. Ken was understandably distraught.
It wasn’t pretty. But all the drama that followed - Ken’s shocking interview, a public Twitter feud between the former couple, the hunt for hundreds of Chainsaw Barbies hidden across the UK – has a silver lining. It helped bring the continuing destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests for pulp and paper out into the open and forced action.
Mattel recognized it couldn’t allow its supply chains to include products from deforestation and that toy packaging shouldn’t come at the costs of rainforests and tiger habitat.
As the largest toy company in the world, their new policy sends a message to other companies that to be a responsible business you must be vigilant about keeping deforestation out of your products. As part of its new commitments, Mattel has instructed its suppliers to avoid wood fibre from controversial sources, including companies “that are known to be involved in deforestation”. Mattel had already told its suppliers to avoid buying from APP, but this new policy goes much further and tackles deforestation across its whole supply chain.
The policy also aims to increase the amount of recycled paper used in their business, as well boosting the use of wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Of course, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Mattel’s progress to make sure it sticks to these commitments, and we’ll still be pushing other toy companies such as Hasbro and Disney to do the same.
Now you know Mattel and Barbie have committed to dropping deforestation, you probably have only one thing on your mind. Will Barbie and Ken get back together? We don’t want to speculate – but couldn’t help but notice that hostilities between the couple have ceased.
Here’s how the Ken and Barbie breakup drama happened:
As you can imagine, the public airing of Barbie’s dirty deforestation laundry was so traumatic that everyone involved probably needs some time to heal. But it has led to Mattel taking action against deforestation, adding to the pressure from other companies such as Nestlé, Unilever and Carrefour who are also taking action on these issues. These companies are committing to removing deforestation from their supply chains and from their products. And that’s worth some tears.
What does Mattel’s commitment mean for the rainforests and the habitat of the Sumatran tiger? It means that, by losing another high profile customer, APP is paying a heavy price for continuing to rely on destroying rainforests for pulp and paper. People don’t want to buy products that come from deforestation, and right now companies that want to be deforestation-free can’t use APP products. APP has to face these realities and change, just like its sister company palm oil supplier Golden Agri Resources, which has already made strong commitments to stop deforestation.
And we know you’ll be there with us. Mattel’s new policy is all down to you. Your support is important to keeping attention on the plight of Indonesia’s rainforests - the habitat of endangered animals like the Sumatran tiger – thank you.
This really is great news. Primates such as the Sumatran Orangutan (and many other primates and species besides) have got that little bit more of a chance. Now if only we can stop the relentless march of Palm Oil plantations… — PrimateWin x
The next time you’re struggling to relate, think like a baboon. Once again non-human primates are making monkeys out of us and our ideas about uniquely human abilities. Turns out baboons can solve analogy problems—yes, like those scary questions in the GRE Verbal Section.
Analogies are all about relationships. Cat is to kitten as dog is to puppy, rain is to dampness as sun is to heat, etc. To make an analogy, you have to understand the relationship between a pair and then relate that to another pair. Most of us use analogies all the time, and because of their link to language, we thought we were the only living beings that could do it. Not so, apparently.
In a study published in Psychological Science, Franklin & Marshall’s Roger Thompson and Joël Fagot of the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive gave 29 baboons their very own analogy test using visual cues. Each baboon watched a touch screen reveal two shapes with a specific relationship. The next screen presented two pairs of shapes. Baboons received a reward when they correctly identified a pair that related in the same way as the first.
Not only did six of the baboons learn how to use analogies to earn a reward, but when taking the test again a year later, the baboons acquired the skill faster than the first time around. This suggests that they could remember how to make analogous connections.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is carrying out a population census of the endangered mountain gorillas in the Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks to establish their actual number for proper conservation plans.
The IGCP country representative in Uganda, Mr Stephen Asuma, said the census started this month and is expected to end by October 20. The census was last held in 2006 where only 340 gorillas were counted and registered and the total world gorilla population then was 786.
"We expect the numbers in Uganda to have increased by 26 per cent as projected in the 2006 population census. Research has established that a lot of exposure of the mountain gorillas to human beings can lead to their extinction since they have a poor immunity system that easily contracts human diseases," Mr Asuma said.
He added that there was need for funding from the Ugandan government for proper and timely advertising of the mountain gorilla tourism for more awareness locally and internationally to raise a lot of foreign exchange. Tourists currently pay $500 (Shs1.4m)to watch a mountain gorilla per hour in Uganda.
Apes as Family is a dual-screen installation. The right-hand screen shows a kind of chimp soap opera - with chimps played by humans in costume - and the left-hand screen shows the reactions of captive chimps to a screening of the ape drama. It’s a great idea, although it’s not easy to gauge the chimps’ reactions.
We start off seeing a “chimp” in undergrowth. It’s an animatronic ape - a realistic-looking animal, but it didn’t convince me that it was a chimp. Would it fool any watching animal? Then, in the drama, the fake chimp encounters some humans dressed in costume-shop ape outfits, and they all start larking around. What do the watching chimps - at Edinburgh Zoo, UK - make of it?
It depends. Mostly, they seem to ignore the screen in their compound. Sometimes they sit in front of it, apparently studying the images. What’s going through their minds at these moments is impossible to tell, however around five minutes in, a watching male reveals something about his state of mind: his penis extrudes and flaps around like a tentacle. But this coincides with the arrival of a female chimp in the compound, who happens to be in season, so it seems more likely that the male was aroused by her and not the film.
Certainly none of the real chimps can be read as easily as the CGI chimps in another primate film out this year, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but there is one dramatic moment. A male chimp, Klaus, reacts to the calls of his companion chimps in the audience and the animatronic chimp onscreen. “It’s a real deus ex machina moment,” Mayeri says. “Klaus slugs the chimp on screen. He’s known as being protective toward the females in the group, and this seemed to be a real heroic moment.”
Mayeri says she can’t imagine a more interesting project than trying to appeal to another species. She hopes that watching the movie will give people a glimpse of our commonality with chimps.
"I hope that as human primates we can share the common experience of this primate drama," she says. "And once you have developed an emotional bond with other primates, your ethics about them will come from that."