An incredibly well put together and comprehensive book about the great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans by two zoologists, Desmond Morris and Steve Parker.
A pretty much perfect example of how fieldwork and observation by a small number of remarkable individuals over several decades has increased humanities knowledge base and understanding of, in this instance, our closest relatives.
Some of the perspectives presented within this book are somewhat controversial perhaps. Morris has all but given up on the possibility of the Sumatran Orangutan surviving in its homeland. Morris believes that captive breeding programmes and to a lesser extent containment are the only viable ways of preserving this species. Realistic or fatalistic? There are dedicated organisations working in Sumatra with the express aim of preserving the Sumatran orangutan as well crucially as its habitat who would presumably argue that working along with indigenous populations to promote and protect their forests, eco tourism and corporate/consumer responsibility and education offer the best long term and sustainable solution.
Desmond Morris was the curator of mammals at London Zoo in the late 50's early 60's and was involved in devising behavioral experiments with chimpanzees during this time some of which are detailed in this book. He does justify the position by arguing that many captive born apes have been raised with 'considerable affection' and been 'greatly loved by their human carers' as well as providing more detailed explanations of the knowledge we have gained as a result of interacting with apes in these circumstances. There are a number of other behavioral experiments relayed in this chapter which provide an interesting historical backdrop even if one does not concur with Morris' labelling of those who question these practices as being 'idealistic'
Notwithstanding those points this book provides an amazing overview of the great apes with lots of incredible and relevant pictures to the subject matter in hand. It is an amazingly informative book which covers far more than the sum of its parts from anthropology to cryptozoology; listed below are the chapters and sub sections:
MEET THE GREAT APES
What is a great ape?; Evolution of the primates; Where do the great apes live?
Bornean orangutan; Sumatran orangutan; Western gorilla; Mountain gorilla; Chimpanzee; Bonobo; Prosimians; New World monkeys; Old World monkeys; Gibbons
OF APES AND MEN
Shared traits of the great apes; The story of DNA; Extinct ancestors; Living relatives?; Uniquely human; How the human species advanced; The hunted ape; The performing ape; Apes observed; Apes studied in the wild; Ape intelligence; Apes and sign language; Apes in experiments
Apes on the outside; Size and shape; Bones, bodies, and limbs; Skeleton and posture; Muscles and moving; Faces; Hands and feet; Brains and nerves; Senses; Internal organs
THE DAILY MEAL
Feeding and tool use; Essentials of diet; Daily needs; Diet and dentition; A life of plants; Foraging strategies; Feeding routine:orangutan; Meat eating; On the hunt
Why communicate?; Visual signals; Messages through sound; Touch, scent and smell
Family matters; Living in numbers; Apes alone; Who's in charge; Social climbing; Playing; Joining and leaving; Territories
How many mates?; Starting out; Courtship; Breeding cycles; Mating; Pregnancy; Birth and babies
THE STAGES OF LIFE
Infancy; Childhood; Milestones of infancy; Adolescence; Adulthood; Illness, injury and death
Natural threats, Habitat destruction; Hunting and poaching; Disease; Warfare; Not enough genes
SAVING PLANET APE
Global efforts; Charity work; Ecotourism and community efforts; Captive-breeding; Rehabilitation and reintroduction; How we can help
CHARITIES AND ORGANISATIONS
INDEX AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
A slightly curious omission as far as the 'charities and organisations' and 'saving planet ape' chapter is concerned was any mention of the 'Great Ape Project' established by two philosophers, Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer which provides a very fundamental philosophical basis for protecting the great apes but does not get a direct mention here despite Morris even referring to governmental legisalation passed in other countries as a result of and in adherence to these principles where he rather dismissively refers to them in a blanket term as 'those welfare groups' (the Great Ape Project is by definition not a 'welfare group') Morris advocating behavioral experiments on apes is not in accordance with the views of the GAP and I can think of no other reason as to why he fails to specifically name or mention the important work they are involved in.
Whilst Morris does adopt a certain persepective on certain issues pertaining to great apes this book is highly recommended, it is superbly written, illustrated and catagorised and makes an immense contribution to our understanding of ourselves and the natural world.
`Planet Ape' is a truly exceptional book about all the great apes and covers Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Orangutans, Bonobos and Humans. The information enclosed is nothing short of staggering and of all the books on primates and apes I own this one is the most comprehensive, with a great deal of relevant information and with stunning images to boot. This looks at the history of each ape, shared traits with humans, anatomy (with phenomenal illustrations), nutrition, communication, social life, sex life, the stages of life, threats and ways to save them and their habitats. As you can tell, in-depth stuff! This book would be worth buying for the photography alone and I can spend many happy hours just flicking through this book gazing upon it's pages. If you are interested in just one of the great apes I would still recommend this book as it is so informative that you won't be disappointed and it is also fascinating to read about the relationships between the apes as well. This would make a wonderful coffee table book and whilst it is great to flick though at odd moments, you could also quite easily sit and read it from cover to cover too. This is well written, has stunning images and is beautifully presented throughout. Highly recommended indeed.
Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
on 2 December 2011
I absolutely love this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in apes and primates. I am at University and I even use it for references in my essays, as it is very informative as well as interesting to read. There are great pictures all throughout the book which I could happily flick through just to look at, making it a bright, colourful, interesting, fact-filled book.