It’s Christmas morning. She waits in anticipation for her Christmas present.
For so long, she’s wanted a pet kitten.
In the distance, she sees a large-sized gift.
Could it be?
She opens it…
And it’s only a stuffed cat. Great.
She gets so infuriated that she repeats signing the word “angry”.
This misfortune happened to Koko, the lowland gorilla known for signing in Gorilla Sign Language. This 46-year-old ape was taught by Penny Patterson, an American animal psychologist, who took care of Koko since she was a baby.
Gorillas are a hominid, a taxonomic family of the order Primates. Humans are also part of this order. But what are primates? Simply, primates are the most intelligent group of mammals. These include orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, and as mentioned before, gorillas and humans. Primates live in tropical areas of Africa, South America, and Asia. Except for humans, these four are called great apes.
Apes and humans have huge similarities: they have large brains, the same blood types, and express a wide range of emotions. This is because humans and apes share over 90% of their DNA.
To top off, primates play an important role in many aspects of human life. In Hinduism, the monkey god Hanuman is one of the central gods in the Ramayana. He is revered due to his immense bravery, strength, and loyalty.
They also bring economic benefit: the Monkey Temple is a famed tourist attraction in Jaipur, known as the city of monkeys. The Ubud monkey forest is a must-see when visiting Bali.
French author Pierre Boulle started writing ‘La planetes des singes’ after a trip to the zoo. He realized that gorillas have human-like expressions, which later launched the popular movie franchise, Planet of the Apes. Merian C. Cooper, the creator of King Kong, loved stories about gorillas. This inspired him to bring the gigantic, nightmarish gorilla we know today to life.
Primates are crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in forest life. Considering most of them are vegetarian, they eat seeds of fruits, then spread them in little packets of fertilizer everywhere. This is why Ian Redmond, chairman of the Ape Alliance, dubs them the “gardeners of the rainforest”.
Sadly, the number of primates are dwindling: nearly all great apes are threatened with extinction at an alarming rate. This is mainly caused by logging, mining, hunting, trading, and climate change. The number of orangutans left in Borneo remains at between 70 000 and 100 000, meaning the population decreased by half from 1999. If no efforts are made to protect the primates, many more orangutans could lose their lives.
With these statistics, should we lose hope in the fate of our dear primates?
The answer is no. We should still stay hopeful.
Joanna Lambert, professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder, says that “there are a number of examples of a changing ethic in the way people think about our planet, and there are also several examples of conservation success.”
Several organizations have taken steps to save the primates — for example, the Jane Goodall Institute saved 3.4 million acres of habitat and takes care of 290 chimpanzees and gorillas residing in a sanctuary; The Aspinall Foundation set up two parks closely modeled to real forests, making way for better animal care, enrichment, and breeding of endangered animals.
Most astounding would be Body Shop International. The organization launched the Bio-Bridges program in 2016, with a commitment to protect endangered species and restore parts of rainforest around the globe.
Body Shop donated $126000 to an Indonesian local organization in hopes of saving a newly found orangutan species in North Sumatra, the Pongo tapanuliensis.
Though the species is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN — only 800 of them are left — the latest developments in the area impose a huge threat to the livelihood of these apes. In early May 2018, it was announced that a Chinese state-owned hydroelectric company cleared Sumatran rainforest to make way for a water dam. If this isn’t put to a halt, it would be a dismal ending to the world’s rarest species.
On this Earth, primates are not monkeying around, or doing monkey business: indeed, they’re doing some serious business. They’ve done a lot for their distant cousins, us humans. If you still think lowly of apes, remember what Richard Dawkins said,
‘We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realize that we are apes.’