National Geographic : 1992 Mar
TWENTY YEARS AGO I met a chimpanzee named Bruno. He was one of a group of chimps being taught American Sign Language to determine if apes could communicate with humans. Last year I went to see him again. The experiment is long past, and Bruno was moved in 1982 to a medical laboratory, but he is still using the signs. Now it's the lab techni cians who are learning sign language; they want to communicate with him. I looked at Bruno's bright, quick eyes. They seem human, but he is not human. "You cannot look closely at a great ape," primatologist John Mitani once told me, "and fail to sense something very special." Perhaps the first place to look for apes is within ourselves. Little wonder that we feel this sense of recognition. In anatomy and behavior they are our closest relatives. This kinship has both fascinated and dis turbed us. Over years of study, apes have revealed as much about humans as about themselves. Apes may hold the key to under standing our origins and the roots of what we consider the human characteristics of friend ship, love, aggression, language, and tool use. The knuckle-walking African apes are so closely related to one another and to us that some taxonomists suggest that we all should be lumped together in the same family. Oddly, though, some ape researchers oppose this reclassification, not because they think it is inaccurate but because they fear it would offend people who want to think that humans Since 1961 the Society has been instrumentalin advanc ing the study of great apes in the field by funding the groundbreakingresearch of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas, and many others. Their revelations about ape anatomy and behavior inspire us to look more closely at ourselves- and at our treat ment of these, our closest ani mal kin. -THE EDITOR Doting baby-sitter, Titus, a powerful mountain gorilla male, plays gently with an infant while females doze nearby, oblivious to Diane Doran, a successor to Fossey as director of the Karisoke Research Centre. Observed since birth, the 17-year-old silverback recently displaced the domi nantmale in his group and acquired the females that he leads and protects on daily forays to feed on vegetation. Here he breaks branches of a giant senecio (right)to get at the pith.