Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Death in the Family

Biodiversity
Biological Evolution
Edward Hessler

An aged (59 yo) gorilla whose name is Mama is approaching the end of her life.  She lies curled in the fetal position where she tries to take food and drink but is too weak. Mama was born in the wild but soon became a member of the famous Arnhem Zoo Chimpanzee Colony.

About a week before she died she was visited by an old friend.That reunion is deeply moving.

Is she like us?  Are we like her? You bet and it has been only recently that science has been persuaded by the evidence. Animals have emotions. They also have intelligence. But as primatologist Frans de Waal asks in the title of his most recent book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?  The short answer is that there is hope for us. deWaal writes about some of the research and leads it provides into animal consciousness, their emotions and intelligence.

Barbara J. King (NPR) wrote a story about Mama and her visitor in which the film is embedded. I don't think--like to think--that Mama would mind that this reunion between two loving friends was filmed. It seems to me to honor a life so well-lived. My only wish is that Mama could have died in the wild and that the wild that was her first home is still there.

King notes that Mama was an incredible negotiator an important skill among chimpanzees. Male chimpanzees are very political often violently so. King includes a paragraph from Frans de Waal's book, Chimpanzee Politics describing Mama's methods.

There is a circle here. deWaal was a student of Mama's visitor, Jan van Hoff, his first Ph.D. student

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