Don’t get in a fight with a chimp.
I’m fascinated by apes, I’ll confess. I think they challenge the great divide humanity has traditionally put between ourselves and other animals. There are other species that are remarkably intelligent – parrots and crows, whales and dolphins, dogs and slugs (OK, maybe not that last one) – but apes combine intelligence with an appearance that’s undeniably similar to our own. They force us to think deeply about issues as far ranging as rights and personhood, self-awareness and freedom.
Heady stuff. But then sometimes I think about apes in a less cerebral way – like how a full-grown chimp could treat all but the toughest MMA fighters (and maybe even them) like a rag doll: http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/06/29/12477253-report-us-student-fighting-for-life-after-chimps-attack-at-south-africas-jane-goodall-institute?lite
Six times the strength of most humans? Sturdy fangs and homicidal rage?
We’re just lucky gorillas are more even-keeled. They dwarf chimps, but are mostly content to snack on leaves and beat their chests. There are exceptions - http://www.sandtopia.com.au/shop/gorilla%20warrior.JPG - but gorillas are downright restrained when you look at the gap between what they could do and what they do.
I was fortunate to see an orangutan in the almost-wild once (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Orang_Utan,_Semenggok_Forest_Reserve,_Sarawak,_Borneo,_Malaysia.JPG). He was a big, semi-tame male being reintroduced to the jungle from captivity. He was sitting in the forest on a bench playing with a box. We got to approach within perhaps 20 feet before coming up against a single-strand rope, placed there just to tell us “close enough”. Our guide had already warned us to not have camera straps slung around our necks. If an orangutan wants your camera, he’ll take it, and you don’t want your head to go with it.
So we stared and took pictures. Eventually, the orang got bored. So he jumped off his bench and briskly strode right towards us, parting the small crowd – passing perhaps a metre from me in the process – and heading into the jungle, where he proceeded to pull down small trees before heaving himself up out of sight.
Tourists don’t get that close to chimps, not if they want to live.
Interestingly, of all the apes, it’s the most aggressive, the chimp, that’s our closest DNA match. I mention this just to pretend this post is hinting at something profound, when really it was just a chance to write about apes. Apes are cool.