Why do gorillas look human

The genera of the great apes

The hominid group includes chimpanzees, gorillas and 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".

Gorillas: gentle giants

There are two different types of gorillas: the lowland and the mountain gorillas. Lowland gorillas live in the central African countries of Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria and the Congo. Her relatives are native to Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania. Gorillas need a warm and humid climate and therefore seek protection in tropical rainforests or misty mountain forests.

Gorillas are the largest and heaviest "hominids" (people-like). Adult males can grow up to 1.90 meters tall and weigh 220 kilograms. The smaller females can reach a size of up to 1.60 meters and a weight of 100 kilograms.

In the wild, their diet consists exclusively of plant-based food. In order to meet their high energy requirements, they therefore spend a large part of the day eating.

They spend the rest of the time cultivating family ties. Because contrary to what "King Kong" films show again and again, gorillas are not aggressive animals. When there is no threat, gorillas behave extremely peacefully towards strangers, but also towards other gorillas.

They live in groups of up to 30 animals, led by a large alpha male, the so-called "silverback". The territory of an extended family can extend to an area of ​​up to 20 square kilometers. Within this area, the group moves around in search of food.

You sleep wherever you are. To do this, the females build nests out of twigs and leaves on the ground. In general, gorillas rarely climb trees: Most of the time it is only young animals who are looking for the high altitude.

Gorillas are critically endangered. First, because their habitat is being systematically destroyed by humans, and second, because gorilla hands, feet and heads still serve as cruel souvenirs for many tourists.

Orangutans: the "forest people"

These "red giants" are divided into two subgroups according to their habitat in Southeast Asia: the Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). They are the last remaining great apes to live on their continent.

In addition to the bright red fur, their extra-long arms are characteristic of the orangutans. With a height of up to 1.50 meters, they reach a span of up to 2.30 meters. The long arms are due to their way of moving. Because they mostly live in treetops, where they swing from branch to branch. This is probably one of the reasons why their name means "forest man" in Malay.

Orangutans also look for their largely vegetarian food high up in the trees: leaves and bark, fruits and flowers. Every now and then, however, small insects, honey and bird eggs are also on their menu. Healthy males can weigh more than 100 kilograms, females weigh up to 55 kilograms. In the wild, the animals can live up to 35 years.

Orangutans are loners: only at the mating season do males and females meet. In the course of her life, a female will raise four to five children. The "forest people" communicate with the help of a large air sac on the throat: To determine their location and to defend their territories, they emit noisy, barking sounds.

Since humans are continuously destroying the rainforests and thus their habitat, orangutans are also threatened with extinction. Estimates from 2015 numbered only around 14,000 wild animals on Sumatra and between 15,000 and 44,000 wild animals on Borneo.

Bonobos: the "dwarf chimpanzees"

When listing the different genera of great apes, chimpanzees and bonobos are often mentioned separately. The bonobos (Pan paniscus) belong to the genus of chimpanzees and are also called "dwarf chimpanzees". But despite the close relationship, both animal species differ significantly.

Bonobos live exclusively in the tropical rainforests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at an altitude of 1500 meters above sea level. In contrast to the chimpanzees, they have a jet black fur and striking red lips.

Bonobo males and females are roughly the same size and weight. When fully grown, they reach a size of about 1.15 meters and weigh about 40 to 50 kilograms. Bonobos mainly feed on leaves, nuts, bark, and fruits. Only sometimes do they also consume insects or small animals.

They spend almost their entire life high in the trees of the rainforest. They even spend the nights in the branches. To sleep, they make nests out of leaves and twigs - just like the gorillas, just a few floors higher.

The bonobos are also known for their excessive sex life, which fulfills an important social function. They mate not only for reproductive reasons, but also to settle disputes or relieve tensions in the group.

As with other species of great apes, their populations have declined sharply in the past - mainly due to poaching. Because in some areas of the Congo, bonobo meat is considered a delicacy. According to estimates by the nature conservation organization WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), there are only around 20,000 bonobos left in the wild.

Chimpanzees: our closest relatives

The natural habitat of the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) is very diverse. In West, East and Central Africa they live in both grasslands and tropical rainforests. There they form real communities of up to 80 animals.

Within these groups they live together in individual families. Chimpanzees live on the ground most of the time, although they are good climbers. But only at night do they retreat into the trees for a long time and sleep in nests they have built themselves.

Chimpanzees are predominantly vegetarian. Like their relatives, the bonobos, they only occasionally eat smaller animals and insects. With a height of up to 1.70 meters and a weight of around 50 kilograms, their stature is similar to that of humans.

But their flexible thumb, which they place opposite the other fingers and with which they can perform precise grasping movements, is far more "human".

Chimpanzees are the only great apes that use tools widely. For example, they use sticks to fish termites out of their burrows or chase away leopards. Despite their higher intelligence, chimpanzees are far more aggressive than gorillas, for example. Often the males get together in groups to lead bloody attacks on other packs.

Of all the great apes, chimpanzees are the most similar to us. About 98.8 percent of their genetic material matches ours. But despite this similarity to humans, chimpanzees are also endangered. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, there are only around 172,000 to 300,000 animals left in the wild.

WDR | Status: 08/10/2020, 12:01 p.m.