Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Branching Off

For a long time I have been interested in scientific studies of our distant relatives, the apes. Aside from the interesting genetic discoveries that indicate less than one gene actually determines whether we swing from branches or manage them, it has been most gratifying to see that come of them make and use primitive (but still clever) tools and have social orders not unlike some of our own.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I heard the announcement of a recent study indicating that male chimpanzees pay females for sexual favours with bits of meat!

This most certainly means some profound things, for instance that these creatures we call 'animals' have reasoning skills far greater than we have credited them with. I mean, they have been known to be able to communicate clearly using taught sign language, to use tools and even tree branches as weapons to settle differences. Recently a chimp at a zoo was mentioned as stacking up rocks to throw at annoying tourists from his zoo pen daily - indicating the ability to plan ahead. Now it seems they understand a great deal more, hitherto seemingly reserved for more supposedly intelligent apes - such as basic commerce, bribery , greed - and now bedroom politics as well.

What an earth shattering revelation! This could revolutionize everything from anthropology right through to medical, social and religious studies!


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Yes, I can see it all happening already - disgruntled and zealous missionaries trooping down to the local zoos and into forests in search of chimpanzees and gorillas to start converting them to the straight (and inevitibly) narrow path (I wouldn't put it past them). Yes, I can see bush classes conducted using sign language with a 'free' banana or two for those chimps who understand why protitution is wrong (even if it is done for meat and not money) and why the 'missionary' position is better than doing it in the top branches upside-down (Doggy-style is also a definite no-no).

My, my, my. How far we have come from the trees.

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