are the differences between bonobos and chimpanzees?
are more elegant, longer-legged, and smaller-headed than chimpanzees.
There are other anatomical differences, but the biggest difference
is in the behavior. For example their voices (click here
to listen to bonobo vocalizations) sound totally different from
those of chimpanzees. Bonobos are more sexual in everything they
do, and adult females often dominate adult males, an unusual situation
among primates. The bonobo is little known, but the more we learn
about them the more they will help us reconstruct the last common
ancestor (the ape from which humans, chimps, and bonobos derive).
Some scientists try to keep bonobos on the sidelines, since they
fail to fit certain "macho" scenarios of human evolution (which
emphasize violence, hunting, and the like), yet bonobos are equally
close to us as chimps hence equally relevant.
Bonobo body proportions
resemble those of Australopithecus according to Adrienne Zihlman,
an American anthropologist
does one become a primatologist?
need a major in psychology, anthropology, or biology. Best is of
course to attend a college with professors who do primate work and
teach about it. Next best is professors who do animal behavior in
general. In order to get accepted in a graduate program in primatology
it will be extremely helpful if you have previous experience. This
may be a field trip to a place where primates are being studied,
a project at your local zoo, or time spent in an animal behavior
laboratory. Without such experience, the professors you apply to
work with will find it hard to judge if you'll do well with primates.
And without field experience it is hard to judge if you will be
tough enough for work in the natural habitat (which is physically
demanding and lacks many of the usual luxuries of life - some students
travel all the way to the tropics only to quit in a matter of days).
Foreign language skills are often required.
we judge prospective graduate students, we make a quick distinction
between those who merely think primates are cute and likable and
those who additionally have issues in mind that they wish to explore.
The latter students are preferred.
does Our Inner Ape teach us about ourselves?
book shows how much apes resemble us and how much we resemble them.
Given the common misperception that we stand miles higher on the
evolutionary scale, this means that in my book apes move up a few
steps whereas humans move down a few. If an extraterrestrial were
to visit earth, he would have a hard time seeing most of the differences
we treasure between ourselves and the apes. The number of similarities
is far greater - from our ears and hands to our sexual behavior
and power politics. Within this mass of shared traits a few important
differences can be discerned, such as the use of language, but we
tend to blow these differences out of proportion the way people
do all over the world with regards to ethnic distinctions. People
have a profound need to set themselves apart and feel superior.
But in fact, we are not just close to the apes: we are apes
(To be precise: we belong to the primate order, within which the
main distinction is between New World and Old World primates, and
between monkeys and Hominoids. The latter family includes only humans,
apes, and gibbons).
human-ape connection is one lesson from the book. To see what
it means for human behavior is another, and here I take the
stance that not only our undesirable traits, such as violence,
but also our noble ones, such as morality, are part of our primate
heritage. There is really no reason to blame human biology for
all that's wrong with us, because also all that's right with
us is a product of our evolutionary background.
different are captive primates?
primates get their daily food for free, so they have time on their
hands. Their social life intensifies as a result. Captive primates
are generally healthier, and hence live longer than primates in
the field. They are also less free, but this is a typically human
take on their life that may not be felt the same by the animals
themselves, especially those born in captivity (some great insights
on this can be found in Life of Pi by Yann Martel).
is not to say that we can get all of our information on primate
behavior from captivity. We need to know a behavior's natural function
to know how it may have evolved. For this, we absolutely need data
from the wild. Nothing can replace the arduous work of field primatologists.
On the other hand, in the wild it is impossible to do certain behavioral
experiments so that conclusions are often hard to draw. For example,
if apes in certain wild communities crack nuts with stones, the
question is if each individual discovered this by itself or if it
copied it from each other. The latter would mean that we call the
pattern "cultural," as discussed in The
Ape and the Sushi Master. This question is easier to answer
with experiments than field observations. We need studies on both
captive and wild primates, therefore, to piece it all together and
come up with the best possible theories.
do feel strongly that captive primates should be kept in social
setting in both zoos and laboratories, preferably with outdoor access.
With the decreasing laboratory use of chimpanzees, there is a great
need for retirement facilities. I am part of ChimpHaven,
an organization devoted to releasing ex-research chimps onto large
Culture Project at Living Links