Monkeys will become extinct

Great apes

What are great apes?

The term "great apes", as it is anchored in normal usage, is actually not particularly scientifically accurate. Because a distinction is made between small great apes, which include gibbons, for example, and large great apes.

The latter are also called "hominids", and they are the animals that are normally associated with the term great apes: chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans. Bonobos, which are often mentioned in this series, are not a genus of their own, but "dwarf chimpanzees", ie a sub-form. From a purely biological point of view, humans (Homo sapiens) also belong to this group of "hominids".

The reason we and the great apes are placed in a biological family is because of common ancestry. Researchers suspect that our evolutionary paths first parted around 15 million years ago when the orangutan split off from their common ancestors. Humans only embarked on their own development path about five to six million years ago.

Yet while these periods of time seem enormous, they are little more than the blink of an eye in the history of life on earth. This is one of the reasons why the great apes are genetically very similar to us.

Orangutans share around 97 percent of their genetic make-up with humans, making them the most dissimilar to us among the great apes. The genes of gorillas differ only about 1.7 percent from those of humans, and in chimpanzees it is only about 1.2 percent.

Between man and ape

As their name suggests, great apes are a biological "middle thing" between the two species, because they differ significantly from other ape genera such as the macaque or the baboon.

Probably the most obvious difference: Hominids do not have a tail with which they can hold onto trees or control their balance like their distant relatives.

But there are other characteristics that separate great apes from other apes and make them similar to humans: For example, they have the first anatomical requirements for an upright gait. This means that your pelvis is turned slightly forward so that the back legs can be relieved and stooped walking is already possible.

Another difference compared to other monkeys is that the front legs (i.e. arms) of great apes are longer than the rear legs. The last two properties in particular give them the opportunity to act in a human-like manner from our point of view. By relieving the front limbs, they can use their hands better.

Your "opposing" thumb, which is opposite the other fingers, is also helpful. Like humans, they can use it to perform precise finger movements, such as the so-called tweezer grip, and even use tools. Her relatively large brain also helps with this.

Furthermore, great apes have a distinctive color vision and can perceive the world in three dimensions. The facial expressions and gestures of the great apes seem particularly familiar to us: They can smile and even laugh. However, this sounds more like a cough. We also share the structure of the blood group system (A, B and zero) with the chimpanzees.

But the differences to humans are also clear: The feet of the great apes are much more flexible than ours, since their big toes - like the thumb - can be opposed. This anatomical requirement makes climbing easier, but makes walking more difficult (especially rolling over the ball of the foot).

In addition, great apes have 48 and humans have 46 chromosomes. Our second chromosome is a combination of the second and third of the great apes.

Monkey company

With the exception of the orangutan, great apes are very social animals that live together in groups and have clear hierarchical structures. In some respects they are so similar to us that their everyday behaviors and problems seem really "human".

For example, great apes communicate with each other extensively: Although they lack the anatomical prerequisites for human-like language (especially in the brain and on the larynx), they have a diverse system of clear gestures that are used in a language-like manner.

Emancipation, on the other hand, is not an issue for great apes: families are always led by the strongest male. In the case of sometimes bloody power struggles, the hierarchy in the group is determined.

But violence does not only exist within a family. Great apes sometimes wage real wars against other clans - a sad commonality that they share with humans. The well-known primate researcher Jane Goodall justifies this behavior with a "fear of everything foreign" - that sounds very familiar too.

But mostly the social contact between the animals serves as a bonding agent for the community. Great apes know they are stronger in a group and spend a lot of time cultivating family bonds. Mutual licking and scratching is therefore part of everyday life. "Selflessness" is also not a foreign word for great apes.

At Kyoto University in Japan, researchers observed that two chimpanzees exchanged tools to help each other. Even though they could not expect any direct reward from each other.

Gorillas go even further: if a predator attacks the family, the alpha male will fight to protect the family, even if it could be injured or killed in the process.

Erotic relationships are also as complicated with some great apes as with humans: Bonobos, for example, have gay and lesbian sex, chimpanzees "buy" the favor of females specifically with fruit and sometimes bound females "arrange" to meet one another away from the group for an undisturbed nap other males.