Blog Four: Are Species Similar?

When I was a young child visiting the zoo I always enjoyed seeing the non-human primates that we called gorillas and monkeys. Now knowing more about our diverging paths during evolution I am amazed at the other factors that come into play when comparing our current lives. Back then I only understood that we all could walk on two legs but the other primates never looked comfortable doing so. We did have four extremities, two ears, one nose, a mouth with teeth, and two eyes that looked straight ahead. Now those features seem a little different based on our environments and how we can best use our genetically, determined bodies, but I still always wonder what is going on behind those glassy eyes that gaze back from across the moat or behind the glass as if I am the mammal in captivity.

The information in the videos and links brought to mind the social and cultural aspects of primate life that are most evident when these non-human primates are observed in the wild. I was aware of the family organizations that were described in the lectures and shown in the videos, but I was surprised to learn more about the social interactions and particularly the violent behavior that is seen among individuals in the same family as well as among territorial groups. Unfortunately, I understand the basis of the infanticide seen when a new dominant male takes control of a group. It makes sense that he needs to express his genetic material as quickly as possible within the gene pool since his reign may be short-lived. It seems unnecessary that infanticide should culminate in cannibalism, but the system is apparently accepted within the group. I was unaware that groups of primates went on patrol on a regular basis to monitor the borders of their territory and to seek out strangers to attack or intimidate using strength in numbers. These activities are obviously planned to some extent with intent that may differ from what we believe is happening, but nonetheless, higher reasoning and cooperation is necessary for these activities to take place. I believe we can understand a very primitive basis for violent behavior in our society and among individuals at different social levels. These primates have few, if any, possessions and probably only need to protect their homeland and the food resources nearby. Considering this, they seem to expend significant effort to protect what little they have. It is no surprise to me that humans would place even greater value on our multitude of possessions and believe that guarding them from loss is of similar importance. We have even extended this concern to develop insurance against loss, which the other primates have not learned to do since they cannot replace the value of anything they lose. Finally, I was saddened to see how other primates deal with death. Even though our evolutionary paths have diverged the concept of the permanence of death seems to have had a parallel path. The males who groomed their murdered comrade only to be visited by his brother was uncanny when considering a similar situation that might occur after a human military battle. The sense of family that is evident in these primates is exemplified by the mother who kisses her dying child one last time as it takes its last breath of life.

6 thoughts on “Blog Four: Are Species Similar?

  1. I also feel sadness when watching how the chimpanzees dealt with death. To me, that showcased our similarity more than anything else. I have seen ants use “tools” and engage in warfare with each other. But I have never seen them mourn a comrade like that. Ants remind me more of our modern social organization because of their enormous numbers and the high populations of their colonies. The scale of their wars is similar to ours. But, chimps seem to share a level of reverence for the dead that I used to think was only present in our species.

    It is also interesting that they, like us, are willing to engage in warfare even though their groups are so small and tight knit, and death upsets them so much. It is really amazing to me that either of our species is willing to kill our own kind.

  2. The sense of family and comradeship among primates also interested me. It’s kind of chilling how similar these concepts are to our own. I think primates understand death better than any other animal on the planet (who may see death as merely a natural course of life and move on) while primates view death as the end of a friendship or a relationship.
    I was at the Berlin Zoo recently, and I found myself spending hours in the primate area. There was one particular exhibit with a chimpanzee who was heavily invested in this sort of box-like puzzle game the keepers had put right at the edge of the exhibit so that people could watch. His consternation and his methods were strikingly familiar to me as I had seen these looks and these thought processes in many a human. Things like that always excite me because it truly shows how similar we are to each other!
    The sense of family and comradeship among primates also interested me. It’s kind of chilling how similar these concepts are to our own. I think primates understand death better than any other animal on the planet (who may see death as merely a natural course of life and move on) while primates view death as the end of a friendship or a relationship.
    I was at the Berlin Zoo recently, and I found myself spending hours in the primate area. There was one particular exhibit with a chimpanzee who was heavily invested in this sort of box-like puzzle game the keepers had put right at the edge of the exhibit so that people could watch. His consternation and his methods were strikingly familiar to me as I had seen these looks and these thought processes in many a human. Things like that always excite me because it truly shows how similar we are to each other!

  3. Hi,
    Growing up, I always went to the zoo also. I always saw the monkeys and apes as just animals. However, watching their behaviors, like the mothers looking after their children, or the children hanging out with a small group, I thought it was interesting that they did similar things that humans did. Learning more about evolution, and qualities of the primates, it makes more sense as to why I saw the things I did when I was a kid at the zoo. The defense mechanisms that the primates use, as well as how they deal with their emotions is so similar to humans, that it is almost scary. The primates face scenarios and handle them similar to humans, such as friendships, as well as loss.

  4. Hey there,
    I thought your piece was really well written and I agree with the points you wrote about. In school, I remember many children, myself included, said that their favorite animals were the monkeys and gorillas. Now that I’m older, I have a whole new appreciation for non-human primates. We are much more similar than I ever could have imagined. I never really realized how violent the primates can be. But then again, it provides another example of how human and non-human primate’s behavior is similar. The primates tend to live in these close knit communities – as do humans – and it is deeply saddening when they battle one another. It is also interesting the way that animals (primates and others) deal with death. While reading your last paragraph, I was thinking about elephants because they mourn the dead in a similar way to humans and they perform their version of a funeral. It is amazing how different species are all similar in one way or another.

  5. Before reviewing the material for this week I was unfamiliar with infanticide. Infanticide is known to occur in many primate species, but is generally thought of as a male trait. An exception to this chimpanzee behavior was famously noted in the 1970s by Jane Goodall in her observations of Passion and Pom, a mother-daughter duo who cooperated in the killing and cannibalization of at least two infant offspring of other females. In the absence of significant additional evidence for such behavior among female chimpanzees, speculation had been that female-led infanticide represented pathological behavior, or was a means of obtaining nutritional advantage under some circumstances. As the result of new field work involving the Sonso chimpanzee community in Budongo Forest in Uganda, the St. Andrews researchers now report instances of three female-led infanticidal attacks. This was very interesting to read especially learning that chimpanzees are similar to humans in the way that they behave. So, in the same way that humans have exceptions to stereotypical gender behaviors so do primates.

  6. After reading your blog, you mentioned things that never even crossed my mind when it comes to understanding our culture by studying non-human primates. We spend so much time, money, and take extra care to guard our belongings. If we lose anything such as a house to fire, a car to an accident, etc., the expense falls on us and our insurance companies. Then we read things such as what is posted in the links and realize that people and non-human primate lose things all the times. The saddest and irreplaceable of any loss is the loss of a child, partner, or comrade. They can never be replaced. The way non-human primates care for their offspring and protect them with their life should teach us as humans to value our life and that of our children just a little bit more.

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