Your Great Apes
The great apes belong, with humans, to the
family, hominidae. There are 11 living families of apes in the
170 species of primates. All primates share some fundamental
characteristics: among these are that their first toe bears a
nail, while the other digits either have a nail or claws and
the prominence of the power of smell in their brain is diminished
in favor of the sense of sight. Unlike humans and a few other
primates, most live in trees in the tropics.
The name means "forest person" in Malay. Listed as an endangered,
they once ranged from southern China to southest Asia. There are now,
according to a 1993 survey, between 20,000 and 27,000 orangutans left
in the wild - in Indonesian Borneo, Malaysian Borneo, and northern Sumatra.
The only big ape found in Asia, orangutans tend to live a solitary lifestyle
unlike other species of monkey or apes. Males are usually intolerant
of each other and act aggressively when they meet. The male orangutan
can reach five feet standing tall, and weigh up to 220 pounds. His voice
is his greatest asset, however, being audible up to a couple of miles
away. Orangutans walk on their fists (rather than their knuckles like
chimps and gorillas). A wild born pair in the Philadelphia Zoo lived
there for over 50 years.
For more information, contact: The Orangutan Foundation, 7 Kent Terrace,
London, NW1 4RP, England. Or you can call: 1-800-ORANGUTAN or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A species of chimpanzee, the bonobo is the least known of the great apes
because it lives only in a remote region of Zaire and has only recently
been discovered. Physiologically similar to the chimpanzee, the bonobo
is able, however, to stand more erect and walk on two legs more frequently.
Some anthropologists consider the bonobo to be the best living prototype
for the common ancestor of humans and African apes. Molecular genetic
analyses have shown that the chimpanzee genus, Pan, is most closely related
to humans and shares approximately 99% genetic identity. Bonobos are
highly social. Like humans, they have sex when the female is not in estrus.
They are generally peaceful animals, something attributed to the maintenance
of their highly complex social repertoire. Listed as endangered, bonobos
are highly vulnerable to deforestation, poaching, and refugees fleeing
There are three varieties of gorilla - the eastern and western lowland,
and mountain gorillas. Of the last there are only 650 left in the wild,
and their numbers are declining daily as poaching and deforestation take
away their remaining habitat in wartorn Zaire. All told there are around
30,000 gorillas left in the wild, although that number may be grossly
overestimated. Males can weigh over 400 pounds. In spite of their size,
however, gorillas are nearly always herbivorous and gentle creatures,
with strong family units. Apart from Zaire, gorillas are found in Gabon,
Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon.
For more information, contact: The Gorilla Foundation, Box 620-640, Woodside,
CA 94062. Tel.: 415-851-8505. E-mail: email@example.com
There are three chimp subspecies - the western, central, and
eastern African - and they number in total around 100,000
in the wild (down from millions just 50 years ago). The male
can grow up to four feet,
the female three and a half feet, in height, and they weigh between 150
and 190 pounds. Chimpanzees have been known to use tools such as rocks
to crack nuts and sticks which they push into termite mounds and then
lick. Mothers have a lifelong bond with their children, and chimps have
been known to use the forest medicinal plants to treat themselves when
they are injured. Highly social, chimpanzees have a wide variety of facial
expressions, kisses, pats, vocalizations, and body signs to communicate.
Apes in Zoos and Laboratories
As of December 31, 1995, there were 329 gorillas, 242 chimpanzees, 232
orangutans, and 56 bonobos in the 164 zoos accredited to the American
Zoological Association. The AZA does not register roadside zoos or entertainment
parks. While sources are unclear, it seems that there are a minimum of
50,000 primates in U.S. laboratories.
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