Book of Mysteries: What is it to be human(e)?


gorillasfilm.jpg                                                                             Image: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund /


Many years ago I was fascinated by a story of gorillas disabling poacher snares intended for other wildlife. Then a few days ago I saw an article on monkey’s early “domestication” of the wolf. We certainly inherited more from our primate cousins than we realize.

Compassionate gorillas?  

A team from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center filmed a silverback gorilla pointing out a snare to two younger male blackbacks who went over to investigate, spotted the snare, and dismantled it efficiently and effectively. They went on to dismantle a second snare farther along.

This was not the first time these blackbacks had disabled a snare. Their actions were deliberate, and they did not need to think before snapping the stick that held the snare in place.

Why would mountain gorillas do such a thing? Presumably they are aware of the trap and could have avoided it.   The traps themselves are not strong enough to hold a full grown or juvenile gorilla. However, there are known instances where baby gorillas have been ensnared, causing injury and death.

What is the definition of intelligence? Thinking ahead and preventing problems? Maybe even a capacity for compassion?


Monkeys domesticating wolves?

Canis_anthus_-_Cécile_Bloch_7.jpg                                                                  Image by Cecile Bloch (PLOS ONE) [CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


In the grassland of Africa, monkeys have been documented in what might be termed a pre-domesticate relationship with wolves.

Each day, about noon, the wolves begin foraging for mice amongst herds of gelanda, a type of baboon. Presumably the gelanda make it easier to catch the mice since the rate of success for the wolves goes from 25% when they hunt alone to 67% when they hunt around the gelanda.

While wolves would normally consider baby monkeys dinner, they very rarely attack them. Indeed only one instance was ever noted and the other monkeys—numbering in the hundreds—drove the wolf away and would not let it return.

But what would the monkeys get from this arrangement? Grasslands are very dangerous places for monkeys. There are no trees to climb to seek protection. It is theorized the wolves might be providing protection from other predators, thus expanding the monkey’s foraging habitat.


Monkeys enter the Stone Age

dsc00015.jpg Image reproduced on several blog pages–unable to find original attribution

And then, just yesterday, New Scientist carried this article. Yes, macaque monkeys using stone “tools” to crack open marine life for food. Not only using tool, but looking for a different tool–one that might do the job better. (There is a YouTube for that.)

The article goes on to report chimpanzees have been using tools for 4000 years. So maybe not so new after all.



For more on the gorillas: Yirka, Bob. (2012, July 23). Gorillas filmed performing amazing feat of intellectual ability. PhysOrg. Retrieved 6/13/16 from

For more on monkeys and wolves: Journal of Mammalogy,

For more on monkeys using toolsJournal of Human Evolution, DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2016.05.002


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