Apes are not just our kin, they are also capable of human kindness. A bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee at Twycross zoo is famous for gently rescuing a stunned starling, protecting it and helping it fly away. A female gorilla in a Chicago zoo picked up a three-year-old boy who had fallen 18ft into a primate pit: she cradled him, patted him on the back and handed him back to zoo staff. Both animals proved that apes have empathy. That is, they can imagine how others might feel.
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Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Since the early s, an increasing number of researchers have published studies that contradict these theses. Among them is Frans de Waal, who examined the mechanisms of reconciliation among chimpanzees.
And the work on bonobos, a chimpanzee species whose social life differs dramatically from that of their aggressive and violent cousins, brought about a huge change in our approach to primate research.
Bonobos have only been studied in the wild since the s, but even before then people had noticed crucial differences between them and chimpanzees. Sex is a way of greeting one another, of resolving conflicts, and part of just about every social interaction. For a long time, experts were reluctant to believe what field researchers were reporting about the bonobos: that even though female bonobos, like human females, are physically weaker than their male counterparts, the females are the dominant gender.
Female chimpanzees searching for food in the forest are forced to split up, because the region is too barren for the entire group to find enough leaves and branches in one place. Thus, they are usually alone and carrying their young with them. Male chimpanzees, by contrast, hunt in groups on the steppes, and as a result they end up acquiring more food than the females.
Interestingly, when chimpanzee females live together in zoos, where they have more contact with one another, the power imbalance between the sexes decreases. The females band together against the males when the latter try to harass them.
When they see males preparing to fight, they even go so far as to disarm the males by taking away their sticks and stones. This is a form of self-protection, because the males that lose a fight often end up taking it out on the females later. Female bonobos, with a lush natural habitat, are able to search for food in groups and, as a result, to form socially bonded groups that can dominate individual males. In both cases, the dominant sex is not the physically stronger one, but the one with stronger group cohesion.
At the end of the s, Frans de Waal witnessed an interesting scene: just a few hours after the conclusion of a bloody fight between two chimpanzee males, the two gave each other a heartfelt hug. And the entire group watched them do it: a public reconciliation! This behavior puzzled de Waal. The solution is simple: since male chimpanzees hunt in a group, they have to cooperate. There have to be clear hierarchies, and each member of the group has to recognize them.
De Waal then discovered that there are various concrete phases of cohabitation in every group of chimpanzees. The cycle begins with one alpha male ruling the group, unchallenged, for years. At the same time, the incumbent boss herds his friends closer to him. Once the challenger has rallied enough support, the fight takes place.
The fight goes as long as it takes for one of them to give up and admit defeat by bowing and pant-grunting. In many species, including gorillas and orangutans, the defeated male is driven out of the group or even killed.
Among the chimpanzees, however, something else — something very strange — occurs: the rivals make up in public. As a result, all the males stay in the group, and the supporters of the winner receive special privileges with regard to the access to females. A new phase of stable hierarchies has been established, which the males will acknowledge when working together on the hunt.
The group status of a chimpanzee male determines his sex life: the more powerful he is, the more females he can have sex with, and the greater his chances of reproducing.
As a result, the males have an extremely small window of opportunity to get females pregnant, which also ups the competition among them.
Only the genes of the males who win this competition will be passed on. Only the genes of the females whose progeny both make it into adulthood and end up reproducing their own babies will be passed on.
When distributing prey after a hunt, a given female will only agree to have sex with the male distributing the food if she gets a very big piece. De Waal once observed a male that was limping badly until the other males set off on a hunt, at which point the injury suddenly vanished into thin air and the male started making passes at the females. Let it be noted that males caught doing these kinds of things are given a brutal beating, which is why so few of them dare to do so at all.
Physical differences in gender can help us draw conclusions about the development of our species. Chimpanzee males are only a few centimeters bigger than the females but, due to their muscles, weigh one and a half times more. Things are different in the bonobo world. Males are only slightly larger and heavier than females. We can thus assume that the male ancestors of the bonobo were dominant, even though today the females are the ones in power.
At some point, some relation dynamic must have been reversed, causing the males to become smaller. Dominance also influences life expectancy: if you have to fight for power, you end up dying earlier. Lions make for a particularly drastic example. The females usually live to thirty, the males only to seven. Chimpanzee — and human — males also have shorter lives than females. They die in conflicts and wars, sure, but the main reason their lives are shorter is their elevated cortisol levels caused by constant, stressful power struggles.
Bonobo males, however, lead much healthier lives and live just as long as the females. Despite their size and breadth, male gorillas have extremely small testicles. Simply put, his sperm has zero competition. The testicles of a 70 kg lb chimpanzee are twice as big as those of a kg lb gorilla. While the silverback is the clear ruler of the gorillas, the head of a chimpanzee group is more like the chairman of a ruling party.
He has to grant his comrades some access to females, and the males in the lowest rungs of the pecking order will probably attempt to impregnate the females behind his back.
Male bonobos have sex with all the females. So if a female copulates with multiple partners within a short period of time, their sperm are effectively in a race to her egg cell, and the male with the most sperm wins.
Twenty years ago, it was observed for the first time how a lion killed all the cubs in a pack after taking power. Why was he so brutal in his first day on the job? The answer is simple: so the lionesses would be ready to mate with him more quickly. In these species, the interests of the female are up against those of the male. The genes of males that eliminate the offspring of their competitors and quickly father their own are the ones that prevail. The bonobos are the only primates that do not commit infanticide.
Since females have sex with all males, including those from other territories, it would, evolutionarily speaking, be pointless for the males to kill babies that could potentially be their own.
Human women use the exact opposite strategy: they are the only primates that form pair bonds. Instead of obscuring paternity, they guarantee it, and even get men to protect their own young. A sense of fairness was considered a purely human characteristic until Frans de Waal documented it among capuchin monkeys.
His discovery was met with such incredulity that he had to repeat the experiment countless times. He sets it up by teaching two monkeys how to hand over pebbles to a scientist from their cage.
As a reward for each successful pass, they both receive a slice of cucumber. However, after twenty-five passes, one of them receives the usual slice of cucumber while the other unexpectedly gets a sweet grape — a more desirable reward. This behavior contradicts the assumption that apes have nothing but their own benefit in mind: an egotistic opportunist would always take the slice of cucumber when the only alternative to rejecting it would mean getting nothing at all.
Obviously, an aversion to unfairness is hard-wired into the genetic makeup of apes. When the same experiment was repeated with chimpanzees, several of the favored chimps even rejected the grapes out of solidarity with the chimps that were being treated unfairly. This sense of fairness has developed among animals that have hunted together in the past. When prey is not distributed properly among a group, there is no point sticking around for the next hunt.
Many highly developed animals can understand the feelings of fellow members of their species and even those of related species. Take the striking example of the yawn. Like human beings, other animals capable of empathy — like monkeys, dolphins and horses — automatically yawn when they see others yawn.
Some dogs even yawn when they hear a recording of their master yawning. Interestingly, people with autism i. In one experiment, researchers blindfolded a chimpanzee and hid some food from him while another chimpanzee watched.
When the blindfold was removed, the scientists observed both chimps. It was clear from the behavior of the "watcher" that he did not expect his companion to also know about the secret stash. All animals that can recognize themselves in the mirror also have this ability.
The only animals that can consciously help others are those that know what others might be thinking. For example, chimpanzees will throw a rope into a ditch to help their friends climb up. Then, she climbed to the top of a tree with it in her hand, carefully spread apart its wings, and threw it high into the sky — she had even understood what the bird wanted to do. All primates are hostile toward members of other groups. After that, they raided the enemy territory, killed all the young, raped the females and took over the territory.
Bonobos also act with hostility toward foreigners, but if a fight breaks out, the females de-escalate the situation the way they always do: with sex. Xenophobia is probably part of our evolutionary make-up, which makes it a very tough subject to get to the heart of using rational arguments.
In place of exploring xenophobia, we should be studying how we can boost its opposing force: empathy. Why is it that chimpanzees and human beings can blind themselves to the fact that the foreigner is one of their species, thereby blocking the empathy that would otherwise creep up within them? This is an important question that all ethologists will have to ask in the future.
Only an increase of empathy, e. We humans naively believe that we make moral decisions based on rationality and of our own free will.
For example, the brain activities of various test subjects were scanned while they were told to imagine themselves in the following dilemmas:. What would you do? Beneath you, a trolley has gone out of control and is speeding toward five rail workers.
'Our Inner Ape': Hey Hey, We're the Monkeys
Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Since the early s, an increasing number of researchers have published studies that contradict these theses. Among them is Frans de Waal, who examined the mechanisms of reconciliation among chimpanzees. And the work on bonobos, a chimpanzee species whose social life differs dramatically from that of their aggressive and violent cousins, brought about a huge change in our approach to primate research. Bonobos have only been studied in the wild since the s, but even before then people had noticed crucial differences between them and chimpanzees. Sex is a way of greeting one another, of resolving conflicts, and part of just about every social interaction.
It's no secret that humans and apes share a host of traits, from the tribal communities we form to our irrepressible curiosity. We have a common ancestor, scientists tell us, so it's natural that we act alike. But not all of these parallels are so appealing: the chimpanzee, for example, can be as vicious and manipulative as any human. Yet there's more to our shared primate heritage than just our violent streak. In Our Inner Ape , Frans de Waal, one of the world's great primatologists and a renowned expert on social behavior in apes, presents the provocative idea that our noblest qualities--generosity, kindness, altruism--are as much a part of our nature as are our baser instincts. After all, we share them with another primate: the lesser-known bonobo. As genetically similar to man as the chimpanzee, the bonobo has a temperament and a lifestyle vastly different from those of its genetic cousin.
Our Inner Ape
But not all of these parallels are so appealing: the chimpanzee, for example, can be as vicious and manipulative as any human. After all, we share them with another primate: the lesser-known bonobo. As genetically similar to man as the chimpanzee, the bonobo has a temperament and a lifestyle vastly different from those of its genetic cousin. Where chimps are aggressive, territorial, and hierarchical, bonobos are gentle, loving, and erotic sex for bonobos is as much about pleasure and social bonding as it is about reproduction. While the parallels between chimp brutality and human brutality are easy to see, de Waal suggests that the conciliatory bonobo is just as legitimate a model to study when we explore our primate heritage. Frans de Waal has spent the last two decades studying our closest primate relations, and his observations of each species in Our Inner Ape encompass the spectrum of human behavior. This is an audacious book, an engrossing discourse that proposes thought-provoking and sometimes shocking connections among chimps, bonobos, and those most paradoxical of apes, human beings.