Gorillas, chimpanzees, humans
Received wisdom holds that chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than gorillas; the only species perhaps more closely related is the bonobo, but there aren’t many of those. I believe the received wisdom merits amendment.
Chimpanzees might be engaging when we see them on film or in the zoo but in many ways they’re pretty horrible. They form gangs, beat up other chimps, hunt monkeys and kill and eat them, fight each other and form dominance hierarchies, and are generally not to be trusted. Gorillas, in contrast, are gentle, peaceful creatures, devoted to their families. The only way to make a gorilla turn violent is to threaten its mate and children.
On that basis I suspect that while the chimpanzee is the closest relative of man, the gorilla is the closest relative of woman. (The bonobo is probably the closest relative of hippies.) This evolutionary hypothesis is readily testable in these days of rapid DNA sequencing, but alas, my scientific colleagues have to date ignored it. I continue to bombard them with e-mails and ignore restraining orders.
More seriously, a friend who recently visited Rwanda told me of a memorable and impressive experience among the local mountain gorillas – which remain targets for poachers, despite the assiduous efforts of the rangers and guides. Katy and her companions were following a troop of gorillas, at a respectful distance, when the silverback (the dominant male) stopped, motioned the rest of his family onwards, and sat down beside the track. The humans hesitated to pass him, but the guide said “It’s okay, he won’t hurt you”. And indeed they passed the silverback with no alarms. Once they were past them he rose from his seat and overtook them, catching up with his family.
Katy had a glorious afternoon in close proximity to these wonderful animals but remained puzzled by the silverback’s behaviour on the track. The truth only became apparent on the return journey. The guide hunted among the undergrowth near the place where the old male had seated himself – and there, hidden from view, was a trap left by the poachers. The silverback had known it was there and was intent on protecting his human visitors as well as his own family.
You’d never catch a chimpanzee behaving like that. Or, I suspect, most humans.