Do animals hug each other?

By Emma Bryce – Live Science Contributor about 14 hours ago

Who else is fond of a warm embrace?

The 17-year-old male bonobo 'Manono' and 4-year-old male 'Pole' hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010.

The 17-year-old male bonobo ‘Manono’ and 4-year-old male ‘Pole’ hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

COVID-19 interrupted one of life’s most familiar acts: the warm, enveloping comfort of a hug. The pandemic taught us many things, some more important than others — but one of those is just how much many of us rely on these embraces for a sense of reassurance, consolation and calm. 

We’ve become profoundly aware of the significance of this simple act in our human lives — but does hugging exist in the rest of the animal kingdom? Are there any other species that embrace in the way humans do?

To answer that, first we have to define exactly what we mean by “hug.” From a subjective human standpoint, of course, a hug happens when someone wraps their arms around someone else. Naturally, this restricts hugging to animals with arms — and those are mainly primates, like us. This quickly reveals that, while we might see hugs as a uniquely human trait, hugging is actually just as prominent in the lives of nonhuman primates.

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Comfort and consolation 

Take, for example, bonobos (Pan paniscus), which are often described as the peace-loving hippies of the primate world. These primates have been a lifelong subject of study for Zanna Clay, a comparative and developmental psychologist and primatologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Clay studies social interactions among bonobos, and much of her observational work takes place at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for bonobos whose lives have been disrupted by hunting. At this sanctuary, it’s common to see troops of infants obsessively clinging to one another as they walk around in tandem. 

“You have quite a lot of young orphans who need quite a lot of reassurance, and they do what we call the ‘hug walk’: They hug together and walk along in a little train,” Clay told Live Science.

Clay says that this behavior is more common in the sanctuary than it would be in the wild — possibly because bonobos are also exposed to embraces from their human caregivers — but it still does occur in bonobos’ natural lives. In fact, this behavior probably has roots in the maternal behavior of female bonobos, which cradle their infants when they are small. Researchers have observed that this hugging behavior is most common in young bonobos and typically occurs after a bonobo has experienced conflict or stress. Often, in these cases, a distressed bonobo will stretch out its arms in a beseeching gesture, and another bonobo will dramatically rush toward the squealing infant and encircle it in a tight embrace. 

“A bonobo might request [a hug], so they will seek someone out and sort of ask for help, or somebody might offer them one,” Clay said. 

Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

It’s difficult to judge animal emotions, but the evidence points to the likelihood that hugging reassures these primates, just as it does humans, Clay said. Intriguingly, in some of her previous research, Clay and her colleagues discovered that orphaned bonobos were less likely to offer sympathetic hugs to distressed peers, compared with young bonobos that had been reared by their mothers. This might indicate the importance of parental care in laying the foundation for this social gesture in primates, Clay said. 

Bonobos may be particularly fond of a good cuddle, but the maternal roots of this embrace make this behavior common across many other primate species. In many of these species, mothers hold their infants closely for extended periods of their infancy. 

For instance, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) — bonobos’ close relatives — are also known to embrace. This is especially notable in tense situations such as “border patrols,” when chimps rove around to assert their presence and protect their territories, Clay said. 

“If they hear a predator, or another chimpanzee group, or something scary, that’s when you’ll see them touching each other and holding on to each other,” Clay said. The hug seems to function as reassurance in the face of danger, Clay added — another relatable feature for humans, who typically reach for one another when afraid. 

Related: Do animals ever get sunburned?

In the case of crested black macaques (Macaca nigra), which live in Indonesia, hugging comes with an added flourish: These monkeys request hugs by audibly smacking their lips — an invitation that’s not reserved for family but extended generously to other members of the troop. 

In addition, young orangutans have been observed rushing to hug each other when confronted with the threat of a snake, thus emphasizing the hug’s apparently reassuring role in times of stress or fear. And in another macaque species, the Tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana), researchers have discovered that consoling hugs are plentiful after a fight — and may even be accompanied by a kiss. 

Proactive peacekeeping 

Most research on hugging in primates focuses on its assumed role in reassuring and consoling others — which makes sense, because this mirrors what hugs mean to humans. But research on the lives of spider monkeys reveals a different reason primates engage in these seemingly affectionate displays. 

Filippo Aureli is an ethologist — someone who studies animal behavior — and is affiliated with both the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico and Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom; he studies how spider monkeys use hugging not to recover from conflict but rather to prevent it. In research based on weeks of observing spider monkeys in the tropical forests of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, he discovered that these primates approach each other and embrace more in scenarios in which tensions threaten to boil over into conflict — for instance, when two unfamiliar monkey subgroups meet after a long time apart and fuse to form a larger troop. Advertisement

“The embrace is done by individuals that have a problematic relationship,” said Aureli, who is an editor on a book about conflict resolution in animals. “They may need to be together, and they may need to cooperate — but they are not best friends. And so, the embrace is a way to send a signal and really manage that conflicted relationship.” He explained that because an embrace involves a high degree of vulnerability — after all, one animal is fully exposing its body to another — this “helps to clarify, ‘Hey, I come with good intentions.'” 

Related: Do animals laugh?

It’s possible that hugging as a means of proactive damage control occurs in other primates, as well. But currently, spider monkeys are the best-studied example of this aspect of the behavior, Aureli said. He described their embraces as “preemptive peacemaking,” and his study even suggests that humans could learn a thing or two from these careful creatures about how to manage conflict. “It’s much better to prevent than to repair,” Aureli said. 

Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log.
Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log. (Image credit: Michael Nunez / 500px)

Speaking of humans, how do our own hugs compare to those of other primates? “At the end of the day, we are primates, and affiliative contact is a superimportant component of our social life,” Clay said. “So, to me, there’s obvious continuity in some of the functions of embracing and hugging with humans.”

As in nonhuman primates, being held and embraced by our parents in our infancy sets us up for the reassuring, consoling function that hugs play in our lives. According to Clay, the one notable difference between our hugs and those of our primate kin is that humans seem to have layered more social symbolism onto the embrace. “I think the difference is that with humans, it’s become a kind of conventionalized greeting or parting gesture,” Clay said. “Apes don’t tend to do that.” 

Beyond primates

Of course, we have to be careful not to assume that hugging looks the same in other species as it does in humans. Hugs in primates are easy to identify because they look like ours, but other species may have hugs that appear different. Advertisement

“If we identify the function of a hugging embrace, then really, the form could be completely different — maybe less fascinating for us as humans, because we don’t recognize it,” Aureli said. “But it could basically fulfill the same role.” 

Primate studies indicate that embraces function to bond, reassure, console and make peace, but hugs could have myriad analogues in other animals. For example, horses groom one another, and studies reveal that this activity decreases their heart rates — a hallmark of comfort and calm. Researchers have observed that if the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) detects signs of distress in its mate, it will rush over and rapidly start grooming the mate’s fur; researchers have interpreted this behavior as a possible act of consolation. In birds, preening between pairs is thought to increase social bonds. RELATED MYSTERIES

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Lions (Panthera leorub heads and nuzzle, which is believed to boost their social connections. Hundreds of other mammal species lean against, nestle and huddle with one another to provide comfort and warmth, or to form a united front against danger — which might play a similar role to the steadying hug we see in primates. Meanwhile, dolphins seem to display a kind of consoling peacemaking behavior: Studies show that these cetaceans are more likely to engage in reconciliatory activities after a conflict — for instance, giving each other a flipper rub, or gently towing each other through the water, like an apologetic piggyback.

So, after the separation and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we might take heart in knowing that what humans know as a hug could have many equivalents in our fellow animals. All around the world, there are animals carrying out small acts of comfort and consolation, and making difficult situations a bit easier for one another. That thought is almost as comforting as a big, cozy hug itself. 

Originally published on Live Science.


New research reveals insight into the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.Getty ImagesTARA YARLAGADDA21 HOURS AGO

TARZAN SWINGING FROM TREE TO TREE might seem like a Hollywood attempt at imagining the life of primitive men, but new findings suggest our ancient ancestors really were swingers.

The study seemingly resolves a long-standing scientific debate over our ancestor’s ability for brachiation — the ability to swing from tree limbs only using one’s arms. Before this ancestor experienced an evolutionary shift toward using hands for tools and legs for walking, they likely knuckle-walked on the ground and glided across canopies.





WHAT’S NEW — Research published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances suggests the last common ancestor of hominids — a category of great apes that includes chimpanzeesgorillasorangutans, and humans — climbed and swung in trees.

“Our findings support the view that humans and chimpanzees evolved from an ancestor that had similarities to modern apes in their locomotor adaptation,” lead author Thomas C. Prang, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, tells Inverse.

SOME BACKGROUND — Most scientists recognize that the highly dextrous human hand seems to differ in shape and form from the hands primates use to swing from trees.

However, this evidence has given rise to a disputed hypothesis: Humans evolved from a quadrupedal ancestor that used all four limbs for movement on the ground, rather than a bipedal ancestor that suspends from trees.

A chimpanzee in a tree. The researchers suggest the ancient ancestor of humans swung from trees like chimps. Getty

Proponents of this hypothesis believe the last common ancestor was more “monkey-like” and less similar to, say, chimpanzees or bonobos.

The researchers in this study were skeptical of this idea and wanted to test its merits.

HOW THEY DID IT — Researchers used a sample of 400-plus specimens, encompassing both living primates and ancient hominoid fossils.

First, researchers analyzed the ancient hand bones of Ardipithecus ramidus, which believers of the disputed hypothesis use to support their idea regarding a quadrupedal last common ancestor. Ardipithecus ramidus is a human ancestor that lived nearly 4.4 million years ago. Our understanding of it is predominantly linked to a partial skeleton found in 2009, nicknamed ‘Ardi.’

The initial interpretation of this hand suggested the last common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees used a form of locomotion called “above-branch clambering,” Prang explains.

The remains of Ardipithecus ramidus.Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Image

He doubts this interpretation for one reason: monkeys and lemurs are the only primates that use above-branch climbing, and their much smaller bodies use external tails to help them with tree climbing — unlike the subject of their study.

“The inference of ‘above-branch’ adaptations in Ardipithecus is somewhat problematic since it’s chimpanzee-sized and lacks an external tail [like all apes and humans],” Prang says.

To test it, Prang and his colleagues reconstructed the evolution of the hominin hand and how it may have adapted in ancient environments.

A figure from the study showing the evolution of hands in various hominoids, including humans and Neanderthals.

WHAT THEY FOUND — The results showed that Ar. ramidus was most similar to chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans compared to “non-suspensory” monkeys. Overall, they compared the specimen across a sample of 53 anthropoid primate species.

Ar. ramidus had these suspensory traits — which enabled them to swing from tree branches — before a significant evolutionary shift occurred with the lineages of Homo (humans) and Australopithecus, an ancient ancestor of hominins, which includes humans and chimpanzees.

“The hand of Ardipithecus suggests that the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees was adapted to climbing tree trunks and suspending the body beneath branches,” Prang says.

The study, in turn, is framed as a debunking of the earlier hypothesis suggesting hominins evolved from an ancestor “with a generalized hand that lacked suspensory adaptations.”

According to Prang, the study also indicates an important evolutionary step related to the development of tool use.

“We show a major evolutionary jump between the hand of Ardipithecus and all later hominins that happens to coincide with the loss of tree climbing adaptations in the foot and the earliest known stone tools and stone tool-cut-marked animal fossils,” Prang says.

This finding provides support for the idea that Ar. ramidus displayed an early form of bipedalism — or the ability to walk upright on two legs — which helps us understand how human hands and feet evolved.

“Our study provides some support for the hypothesis that human hands and feet ‘co-evolved,’ which previous studies have suggested on the basis of comparisons of patterns of hand/foot trait relationships, and evolutionary simulations, among humans and chimpanzees,” Prang says.

The researchers refer to Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, in discussing the implications of their findings.Getty

DIGGING INTO THE DETAILS — The researchers’ new findings harken back to the works of more historical evolutionary scholars.

“Our analysis is much more consistent with what people like Thomas Henry Huxley and Sir Arthur Keith proposed in the late 19th and early 20th century based on anatomical comparisons between humans and apes,” Prang says.

The most notable of these historical scholars is Charles Darwin, the father of evolution. Prang connects Darwin’s work to their findings on bipedalism in the ancient specimen, which can help explain human evolution.

“The classic idea attributed to Darwin is that bipedalism ‘freed the hands’ from their primary role in quadrupedal locomotion, which enabled natural selection to push hand anatomy in a new direction [directly or indirectly] related to manual dexterity, possibly useful for the manufacture and use of stone tools,” Pran says.

WHY IT MATTERS — According to the study, these findings “resolve a long-standing debate about the role of suspension in the ancestry of humans.”

Alexandros Karakostis, a hand biomechanics expert not affiliated with the study, describes the findings to Inverse as “very intriguing.” It provides a robust answer to “a heated debate,” Karakostis says — although it’s a debate that’s likely to continue.

“In this context, this new study identifies suspensory adaptations in the 4.4 million-year-old hand remains of Ardipithecus ramidus, suggesting that human hand morphology may have emerged from an evolutionary shift between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus,” he says.

A sculptor’s rendering of the hominid Australopithecus afarensis. The researchers in this study discuss the evolution of Australopithecus. Getty

WHAT’S NEXT — In the future, the study team wants to examine the Ardipithecus hand in more detail.

Ameline Bardo, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Kent not affiliated with the study, agrees a more detailed analysis of the hand bones would be necessary to “better understand the links between form and function of his hand.” This analysis, Bardo tells Inverse, may contribute to an understanding of the ancient creature’s movements.

Overall, Bardo views the study as “very well done” and contributes to the idea “early hominins evolved from an ancestor with a varied positional repertoire including suspension and vertical climbing.”

The study team is most excited to explore the paper’s implications for the evolution of great apes and humans

“If it is true that humans and chimpanzees evolved from an African ape-like ancestor, it implies that each African ape lineage evolved at different rates,” Prang says.

“It will be important to think about the evolutionary histories of African ape populations and how the evolutionary process might have shaped their anatomy and behavior over the last several million years.”

Abstract: The morphology and positional behavior of the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees are critical for understanding the evolution of bipedalism. Early 20th century anatomical research supported the view that humans evolved from a suspensory ancestor bearing some resemblance to apes. However, the hand of the 4.4-million-year-old hominin Ardipithecus ramidus purportedly provides evidence that the hominin hand was derived from a more generalized form. Here, we use morphometric and phylogenetic comparative methods to show that Ardipithecus retains suspensory adapted hand morphologies shared with chimpanzees and bonobos. We identify an evolutionary shift in hand morphology between Ardipithecus and Australopithecus that renews questions about the coevolution of hominin manipulative capabilities and obligate bipedalism initially proposed by Darwin. Overall, our results suggest that early hominins evolved from an ancestor with a varied positional repertoire including suspension and vertical climbing, directly affecting the viable range of hypotheses for the origin of our lineage.

Update: Trump signs omnibus funding package with wins for horses and burros, companion animals, animals in research and more

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

December 19, 2019

President Trump has just signed into law the omnibus appropriations package with major victories for animals, including horses and burros, companion animals, marine mammals and animals in zoos and research facilities.

The package, comprised of two bills (H.R. 1865 and H.R. 1158) funding all federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2020, was passed by the House on Tuesday with bipartisan votes of 297-120 and 280-138, respectively, followed by Senate votes of 71-23 and 81-11 yesterday. The wins for animals in the package include:

  • Wild horses and burros: The funding package provides an additional $21 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program—funds that can only be accessed after the agency submits a comprehensive plan on how it will implement an aggressive, non-lethal program. The program must be based on scientifically sound, safe and humane fertility control tools that exclude surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation of wild horses and burros to larger, more humane pastures instead of perpetually warehousing these animals in holding pens. Additionally, the bill prohibits the BLM and, for the first time ever, also the U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending healthy horses or burros to slaughter.
  • Wildlife trafficking whistleblowers: The package includes the Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act, which authorizes the State Department to award monetary incentives to persons who disclose original information concerning transnational wildlife crimes that result in a successful enforcement action.
  • USDA inspection and enforcement records: Language in the omnibus directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations. This is the first time Congress has included bill language (rather than report language) to fix this problem, and the USDA will have no choice but to follow this directive.
  • Companion animals in domestic violence situations: The package provides $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. The grant program will help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. House committee report language directs the USDA, and the Departments of Health and Human Services as well as Housing and Urban Development to coordinate implementation during FY20 (House and Senate committee report language not explicitly reversed is deemed agreed to by both chambers in the omnibus).
  • Horse slaughter: Prohibits USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • Animal Welfare Act enforcement: The House committee report calls on the USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices that the agency has promoted during the past few years. The omnibus includes $31,310,000 for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) enforcement.
  • Horse soring: Provides $1 million (a $295,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring”Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
  • Alternatives to animal research/testing: Provides a $40 million increase to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which is charged with making direct applications of non-animal alternatives for research and regulatory needs by federal agencies. The additional funds will help speed the transition to non-animal methods.
  • Trafficking of companion animals for research and testing: Renews the prohibition against the USDA using funds to license Class B random source dealers who are notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through theft for research and testing.
  • Use of primates in research: Omnibus report language directs the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on alternatives to reduce and replace primates in biomedical research.
  • USDA enforcement: The House committee report presses the USDA Inspector General to strengthen its animal fighting enforcement and to audit the USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Humane slaughter of farm animals: Renews bill and report language directing the USDA to ensure that inspectors focus attention on compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive at slaughter plants and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust training.
  • Pet food safety: Provides $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to address pentobarbital contamination in pet food, which has caused illness and death in pets.
  • Disaster planning: Continues funding for the USDA to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to support state and local governments’ efforts to plan for protection of people with animals and incorporate lessons learned from previous disasters. Directs the USDA to work with producers that want to voluntarily develop disaster plans to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
  • Vet care: Provides $8,000,000 for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program that encourages veterinarians to locate in underserved rural or urban areas.
  • Wildlife protection funding: Maintains level funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs that protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Provides an increase of almost 30% from FY19 for the internationally focused Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The omnibus also rejects a proposed cut to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, maintaining funding for its grants supporting proactive, non-lethal measures by livestock producers to reduce the risk of livestock loss by wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves.
  • Marine mammals: Provides $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for North Atlantic right whale conservation, with $1 million specifically reserved for a pilot project for research and development of safer fishing gear to lessen entanglements with these critically endangered whales. Also maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission—a key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems—overcoming its proposed elimination in the president’s budget.
  • Trophy imports: Directs the USFWS to reevaluate its current policy allowing imports of hunting trophies on a case-by-case basis and analyze how targeted investments and technical assistance to the exporting countries’ conservation programs would impact the survival of elephants and lions, improve local communities, and sustain species’ populations. The omnibus expresses concern that the current trophy import policy is detrimental and may not adequately determine whether a country has proper safeguards in place to protect species vulnerable to poaching.
  • Wildlife trafficking: Dedicates funds under the State Department and the Department of the Interior to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Prohibits use of State Department funds by any military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

We are grateful to the many congressional champions of these provisions with whom we worked over the past year, to House and Senate leadership for keeping the process on track, and to all the legislators who voted for these measures. We also thank President Trump for signing both appropriations bills, helping us create a brighter future for animals in 2020 and beyond.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

They’re fighting for their lives…


Right now bulldozers are clearing a tiny speck of rainforest where Earth’s last 800 Tapanuli Orangutans cling to survival.

It’s all to build a hydropower dam that could push them to extinction.

But Indonesia’s President can still cancel the dam, and he wants to be seen as the people’s president. So if we build a massive campaign and get huge media coverage — he could do it! Wildlife experts are meeting him in days and will deliver our call — so add your name to the petition below with one click before the diggers destroy their home!

Save the Last Tapanuli Orangutans

To the Indonesian government and President, Joko Widodo:
“As citizens from across the world, we urge you to save the last 800 Tapanuli Orangutans from extinction by cancelling the Batang Toru hydropower dam. The fate of this entire species rests in your hands.”

Save the Last Tapanuli Orangutans — Sign Now!

The Tapanuli Orangutans were only discovered months ago, and with fewer than 800 left, they instantly became the world’s most endangered great ape species. Their only home is one shrinking patch of rainforest in Indonesia — and this hydropower dam would be built right in the middle of where they live! No wonder major development banks won’t touch it.

Orangutans are basically family — we share 97% of our DNA. They laugh at jokes, cry when they’re sad, and can clearly tell what it means when the chainsaws arrive. We can’t leave them to face that alone and be wiped out forever. So we have to stop this — together!

Let’s build a giant campaign to make them famous, help journalists expose the destruction, and take out media ads to push Indonesia’s President to scrap the dam and save these desperate orangutans. Sign now and tell everyone!

Scientists say we’re living through the sixth mass extinction, and it’s mostly caused by humans. But at the same time, we’ve never been more able to respond to the crisis, and there’s no other global movement on earth that can do it quick enough, loud enough. So let’s save them!

With hope and determination,

Mike, Bert, Lisa, Sarah, Spyro, Elana, Samir and the whole team at Avaaz

More information:

World’s newest great ape threatened by Chinese dam (The Guardian)

Scientists urge Indonesian president to nix dam in orangutan habitat (Mongabay)

Chinese companies backing megadam threaten survival of new orangutan species (Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation)

Sighting of Tapanuli orangutan twins raises hope for saving species (Jakarta Morning Post)

Young gorillas are working together to destroy poachers’ traps in Rwanda

Photo: Marian Golovic/Shutterstock

Young gorillas living in the Rwanda National Park have reportedly learned how to foil hunters and poachers, working together to dismantle the traps set for them. While older gorillas are usually powerful enough to free themselves, younger ones aren’t so fortunate. Traps usually work by tying a noose to a branch of bamboo stalk, and bending it to the ground, with another stick or rock holding it in place. When triggered, the noose tightens around the animal, even hoisting it into the air if the animal is light enough.

Gorillas, however, are taking a proactive approach to these traps. A research teamin Rwanda recently found groups of young gorillas actively seeking out and dismantling traps, to prevent their brethren from falling victim. The research team observed one gorilla bending and breaking the tree, while another disabled the noose, repeating the process for multiple traps. The team believes that gorillas have witnessed a correlation between these devices and the deaths of their peers, prompting their desire to neutralize them.

Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Sanger Institute in the UK, said that “most of our genes are very similar, or even identical to, the gorilla version of the same gene.” This might help explain how gorillas are able to understand the mechanics of hunter traps, identify them in the wild, and coordinate their efforts to dismantle them. 

Extinct gibbon found in Chinese tomb a warning for the world

The piece of skull found in a Chinese royal tomb that uncovered the new genus of gibbon.

(CNN)Researchers have uncovered the skull and jaw of a now-extinct, but never-before-seen genus of gibbon, which they’ve named Junzi imperialis.

Importantly, the remains — which were uncovered from a 2,300-year-old Chinese temple — have evidenced the direct role of humans in Junzi’s extinction, the first extinction of its kind among primates, according to a new study published in the journal Science on Friday.
A female Hainan gibbon with an infant. The imperial Chinese revered gibbons.

“What’s outstanding about this study is that it represents a unique genera, that it’s something that is genuinely new to science,” said James Hansford, one of the authors of the study. “But it also represents the first known human-driven primate extinction that we know of as well.”
Many species have gone extinct. But since the end of the Ice Age, when humans started affecting species, there’s been no evidence of any human-driven ape extinctions, according to Hansford.
“All the evidence points to humans being the dominating factor behind the loss of this species,” said Susan Cheyne, a director of the Borneo Nature Foundation, who is familiar with the study.
“We thought that they had historically been much more resilient to human effects, but in fact they’ve actually been suffering for much longer than we thought,” said Hansford. “This will hopefully highlight the plight of gibbons and other primates in particular.”
A male Hainan crested gibbon.

Gibbons may be the smallest of apes but their behavior and presence are striking. They sing loudly and melodically, have developed an elaborate language, and can swing from branch to branch at speeds of up to 35 mph.
The bones were found at a royal temple in China in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, which was formally an important imperial city. The temple is thought to be the tomb of Lady Xia, the grandmother of the Qin dynasty’s first emperor, according to the study.
The imperial Chinese revered gibbons, considering them regal members of the primate family — compared to monkeys, which were seen as rascally. As such, it was unsurprising to find these bones in a royal tomb, according to Susan Cheyne. Junzi means scholarly gentleman, and testifies to how the Chinese regard the primates.
Gibbons are found across Asia, with several species — including the Hainan black crested gibbon and the Cao-vit crested gibbon — being threatened by imminent extinction. There are only 26 remaining Hainan gibbons in the world, according to Hansford.
Hainan gibbons are found only on Hainan Island, China.

Living gibbon species are suffering more and more from both habitat loss and the illegal pet trade in Asia, according to Cheyne.
“We now know almost exactly if we don’t deal with this double whammy of habitat destruction and hunting. Eliminating one without the other is not enough,” said Cheyne.
Hansford hopes that we can use the study not only to inform the present but to improve it too.
“I hope we can highlight the plight of the living gibbons as well. We use the past to help understand the modern era and look to the future as well, so we can start to conserve what we have and regenerate the things we’ve lost.”

The Roots of My Misanthropy

I am not a hate-filled person by nature, but I have what I consider a realistic view of Homo sapiens as a technologically over-evolved—yet morally under-evolved—ape that supersedes any blind allegiance to the species I might otherwise ascribe to. My disdain for humanity—hereby referred to as my misanthropy—knows no borders, boundaries, colors or cultures, aside perhaps from the emerging culture of do-no-harm veganism.

I’m not so enamored by the modest achievements and advancements we hear so much about that I don’t clearly see that mankind’s ultimate claim to fame is the “undoing” of the most incredible and diverse epoch in the history of life on earth.

My misanthropy is not aimed at individuals per se, but at an entire misguided species of animal with an arrogance so all-consuming that it views itself as separate—and above—the rest of the animal kingdom.

It’s not like humans can’t afford a little resentment once in a while, there are entire religions built specifically on the worship of mankind and its father figure—the maker made in the image of man. But sometimes someone needs to step back and see this species in perspective…

Ever since hominids first climbed down out of the trees and started clubbing their fellow animals, humanoids have been on a mission to claim the planet as their own. No other species could ever live up to man’s over-inflated self-image; therefore they became meat. Or if not meat, a servant or slave in one way or another.  If their flesh isn’t considered tasty, they’re put to use as beasts of burden, held captive for amusement or as literal guinea pigs to test drugs and torturous procedures for the perpetual prolongation of human life. Those who don’t prove themselves useful are deemed “pests” and slated for eradication.

Because, for whatever rationale, the human species sees itself as the top dog—all others: the underlings. My misanthropy is not really about a hate of humanity. I just tend to root for the underdog.

Text and Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Hello Mass Extinction

In yesterday’s post, “Bye Bye Biodiversity,” I mentioned the hundreds of miles of Iowa cornfields where nothing else grows or lives. Humans have seen to it that nothing else lives in that region, at first by physically killing off the birds and mammals through hunting and trapping, and next with poisons to eradicate those species they deemed “pests:” the insects and burrowing mammals, along with any competing plants, collectively known as “weeds.”

To see to it that only the resultant monoculture thrives, their chosen plants are genetically modified to repel any other life that might find its way into the wasteland 524958_3325028303604_654533903_n(also so they won’t reproduce on their own without the parent corporation’s seed stock). Much of the corn is grown to serve as feed for those other monoculture “crops:” cows, pigs and chickens stuck on factory farms.

It requires huge tracts of open, flat land to allow for this kind of whole-Earth manipulation to go on, and the Midwest, once known as The Great Plains—the former home to vast herds of migratory bison and elk, pronghorn and prairie dogs, wolves, grizzly bears and more—was just the ticket.

As long as there are still miles of farm roads to speed their pickup trucks along and an occasional deer, coyote or “planted” pheasant to hunt, folks growing up there consider it to be the “country,” blissful in their ignorance of the biological diversity that thrived across the once wild land they call home.

It’s a similar story out west, where so much of the ancient forests have been removed and replanted with single-species tree plantations. Though the slopes are still mostly green, much of the wondrous diversity of life has been lost, along with the memory of whom and what once lived there.

By the same token, anyone arriving by transatlantic schooner would have no way of knowing that mass extinction in North America had already begun with the arrival of the first human hunters to cross the Bering land bridge a dozen centuries before. The megafauna which evolved on the Western Hemisphere—in glorious isolation from predacious human primates, whose greatest achievement may well be the complete undoing of all that evolution has created during this, the tail end of the age of mammals—would have brought to mind the African savanna; an American Serengeti.

Futuristic films, such as Soylent Green and Silent Running, suggest that when humans inevitably destroy the planet, there will be absolutely nothing left. But mass extinction does not necessarily equate to a totally denuded planet. The otherwise lifeless Midwest monoculture cropland, where one or two dominant species have displaced all others, is closer to what a mass extinction looks like.

In other words, we aren’t on the “verge of causing” a mass extinction, as the mainstream media (loath to report on anything that might affect the stock market) would tell you; we are among the living-dead in the midst of a human-caused mass extinction. It may not be the “Zombie Apocalypse,” but as far as life on Earth is concerned, it’s pretty damned scary.

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography© Jim Robertson

That Thing Called God

As I’ve stated in earlier posts, and on the “About” page, I don’t normally approve comments from hunters trying to defend their blood sport. But I do sometimes save them as fodder for future posts. This is one of those comments, from someone going by the name “Sparky,” which warranted some examination on its way to the round file:

“Fine I’m a Psychopath. I enjoy feeding my family wild game meat instead of highly processed burger king. It’s healthier, period. Also animals ARE things. God created them for us to EAT!”

Okay, first of all, this may be one of those rare cases where the hunter in question is not actually a psychopath, simply because he says he is. A true psychopath would not have the insight to see it, nor the honesty to admit it.

On the subject of healthier eating, no one here is promoting or defending Burger King; but the fact is, a “processed” patty is probably not much worse for you than freshly killed venison—they’re both red meat, riddled with cholesterol. At least the hamburger might have a few vegetables and grains to provide some fiber to move things through that would otherwise sit in the colon and rot. Meat contains 0% fiber. And really, where did Sparky get the idea that there are only two food choices in the world: wild game or Burger King? Millions of good people are living proof that you can get by quite comfortably (and much more healthfully) on a completely plant-based diet.

Now, on to the last point sparky raised, “Also animals ARE things. God created them for us to EAT!”…instinct and better judgment would have me avoid any argument involving religion, but this is too outrageous to ignore. If all of the animals are merely “things” created by a god for people to stuff their faces with, then everything that was ever written by the world’s top scientists is wrong. Forget evolutionary biology, geology or physical anthropology: all we need to know was spelled out over 2,000 years ago on papyrus by people who knew nothing of science and had an agenda to champion the sandal-clad 2-leggers they deemed God’s favorite species—superior to all other animals in mind, body and spirit. Heck, to hear some folks’ interpretation, we humans are practically gods ourselves. But where does that leave all the other precious and amazing life forms who evolved along with us? According to the prevailing religion, they’re just “things” whose only purpose is to provide (colon-clogging) meat for the palette of the once-plant-eating-now-carnivorous-primates-gone-berserk.

Perhaps some hunters weren’t born psychopaths; for some, grandiosity, a lack of empathy and the objectification of our fellow beings are traits acquired by attending one too many sermons preaching that humans are the only ones that matter. It’s a pretty convenient mindset for those lucky enough to be born human, but I’m afraid it mirrors the kind of biblical misinterpretations that have been used to elevate one group of people and subjugate another. There is no chosen species any more than there is a master race. I don’t know what sort of thing God is supposed to be, but I can’t cotton to any being, supreme or otherwise, who plays favorites and gives special treatment to one creature while forsaking all others.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2012. All Rights Reserved

Ignorance is Such Selfish Bliss

Practically every day I receive ignorant comments from hunters which reinforce my theory that—despite their overweening attitude—their understanding of the science of biology is inherently lacking. Just yesterday I trash-canned a comment from a defensive sportsman who obliviously declared, “You might be related to primates, but I’m not,” before going on to accuse me of being ignorant!

Another well-worn classic hunter excuse I hear on a weekly basis—one that must be a contender for the top ten feeblest rationalizations for hunting of all time—is some variation of the ridiculous notion that, “Our sharp teeth are proof that we’re meant to be carnivores.” I could go on all day refuting this absurd figment, but I don’t want to bore the educated reader with something so off-base. (If you happen to be one of those who consider that statement an accepted truth, please take some time to look it up and learn a little about physical anthropology and humankind’s ancestry.)

The history of how Homo sapiens became the species we are today harkens back a bit farther than 10,000 years (as young-Earth creationists believe) or even 100,000 years, as those who tout the caveman diet might suppose. Every species here today has an extensive backstory. As you may well know, we all started out as sea creatures at one time (long before the first biped sharpened the first stone for butchering carrion).

During the reign of the dinosaurs, all of us mammals were rodent-sized creatures who scurried about and tried to stay out from under foot. After the extinction spasm that ended the dinosaur’s days, mammals had a chance to flourish and diversify. Some went through more radical changes than others.

Whales were once wolf-like mammals that returned to the sea between 60 and 37 million years ago, in the early Eocene epoch, eventually becoming the largest animal ever to grace the oceans or the Earth. In terms of physical changes, our species’ story is nowhere near as dramatic as that of the whales. But as far as our impact on all other life forms, it’s a doozy.

No other species of animal has come from such humble beginnings as a tree shrew, progressed through the monkey-types and on to forest-dwelling apes, only to climb down out of the acacia and kill off the largest, mightiest or most numerous of species. But rather than weighing on our species’ collective conscience, it’s gone to our collective head, in the form of an over-inflated ego that is a key trait of the genus Homo. No other species can claim responsibility for changing the Earth’s climate to the detriment of all life or—Homo sapiens’ crowning achievement—causing a planet-wide mass extinction event.

As blissful as it must be to have our collective head in the clouds, when it comes to human origins, it’s critical that we come down to Earth once in a while and keep ourselves informed of reality, lest ignorance facilitate our own demise.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson