Friday, May 29, 2009

Monkey's Uncle

Every once in a while, my life will take on some kind of theme. Lately, primates have been it.

I recently picked up a copy of Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal. When I say "recently," I actually mean "months ago." I finished it on my trip to Florida earlier this month. It's a fantastic read and I encourage anyone with an interest in primatology, human behavior or anyone with opposable thumbs to read it. In the book, de Waal describes years' worth of experience working with chimpanzees and bonobos that offers insight into our own species' behavior - conflict resolution, sex, power, motivation.

So, after reading Our Inner Ape, I was really excited to visit the Miami MetroZoo and see the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Unfortunately, the orang display was closed because they had just introduced two new orangs to the zoo and had them in quarantine. The chimps were not very active when we arrived at their enclosure. I don't really blame them - it was almost 94 degrees. A couple of them - a male and female - were sitting in full view, but they were far away and I didn't get any good shots of them.

The 94 degree heat was getting to us and we decided, after seeing about 2/3 of the zoo, to call it quits. But, we were passing near the gorilla enclosure and I convinced J and his mom to put up with the heat (and my picture-taking) just a bit longer.

The gorillas were really spectacular. Several females were lounging in the shade and a huge male, I think his name is JJ, was stalking around. I got some great shots of the gorillas and was about to pack up my camera when I saw JJ head to the gorilla viewing cave. I rushed into the cave and got there in time to watch JJ approach. He was moving so fast for such a big animal and he was heading right toward the two inches of glass separating us. I have never, in my life, had such a physical reaction to fear and excitement. My legs started to go numb, my heart was pounding and I immediately broke into a sweat. JJ sped up when he saw he had an audience. He plunked down on his butt and looked right at me, for a second, before averting his eyes. At one point, he opened his mouth to show off his canines. He was magnificient. Beautiful and powerful. Words can't do it justice.

I was so taken with JJ that I spent a couple of bucks on a key chain, which seemed like a totally inadequate token.

And of course, now that I'm back in Vermont and have some free time, I've picked up a copy of The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor. I'm curious about the book and how it's going to frame the discovery of Ida - given all of the recent hype. Speaking of the hype, go read Brian's take on it!

More to come when I finish reading the book...

1 comment:

Laelaps said...

I like de Waal's book, although I don't think he is quite right about bonobos being more like our ancient ancestors than chimpanzees (but that's a whole other can of worms).

I definitely would like to see your thoughts on The Link. No one else has written anything about it on science blogs.

I'm glad to see that you're blogging again, too. Keep it up!