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The primates

The evolution of primates

The ancestor of all primates appeared more than 50 million years ago. It was not a monkey, but a very agile little creature that lived up in the trees and looked like a lemur. The first primates slowly evolved to become, 30 million years ago, “real” monkeys. Now, little arboreal species and bigger monkeys, like the hominoids, are part of that order.

The chimpanzee

The chimpanzees are the animals that look the most like us. These big monkeys that live in central/equatorial Africa share 98% of their DNA with us. That means we’re closer to them than the horse is to the zebra! Chimpanzees will never be able to speak. Their mouths, throats and vocal cords make spoken language impossible. These primates, however, are extremely intelligent and have a complex repertory of facial expressions that enable them to communicate what they’re feeling. These sociable monkeys share their food, hug, kiss and invent new tools. Our common ancestor with them lived only 6 million years ago…

The gorilla

The gorilla is the largest living primate and undoubtedly one of the most intelligent land animals. This giant of the central and occidental African forests lives in small harems, generally made up of 5 to 10 individuals, where a single adult male watches over a number of females and their babies. This mild-mannered, attentive and protective patriarch – called a «silverback» because of the white hairs in the fur on its back – is solely responsible for the cohesion of the entire group. The female gorilla has only one baby per litter and the gestation period is identical to that of the human – between 250 and 270 days.

There a only a few thousand gorillas left in the wild, and this number continues to decline dramatically. African deforestation and hunting are the main threats to the survival of these animals. When they feel threatened and want to intimidate the enemy and send a clear warning, the males beat their chests with clenched fists.

A house in the trees

Every night, the female gorilla builds a platform of interlacing branches on which she places a small bed of soft leaves, just large enough for her and her young. The male builds his own bed, but he soon outgrows his treetop shelter and has to abandon it to sleep on the ground.