The Selfish Ape: The Tribe of Suit

2011, Nature  -  52 min Leave a Comment
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Our lineage evolved out there in a dangerous world in which only the winners are capable of surviving. Some families acquired fangs, others procured amazing adaptations that enabled them to prosper in the most inhospitable places on the planet. These fierce clashes made us learn. They shaped us in the only law we have become the true masters of; to compete, to eat, to destroy. From a caste of vegetarian primates we had to learn to kill and thus we became carnivores, but our tree-dwelling past shaped us forever.

Everything was going well. Our species extended throughout the entire planet like an oil slick. The great African plains taught us the importance of an efficient brain with which we could hunt the most colossal creatures and eat them. The plain dwellers lived in immense herds that provided us an abundance of meat. We finished almost all of them off. Today only one of the large ones is left the only giant we’ve allowed to live.

The African elephant is a vegetable eating machine that can radically change the landscape it inhabits. It is the mega-herbivore, a 21 kilogram heart at the service of a trunk. This, the greatest devourer of plants on the planet, is not the only one capable of irreversibly altering its environment.

There is an ape whose capacity to multiply can be qualified as plague-like, the selfish ape. Human beings are not foreign to this race that lasts millions of years. As animals we are very much a part of it. We belong to the ancient lineage of primates. Our family began with animals similar to these, primitive insect-eaters small and insignificant nocturnal creatures that scurried to the haven of forests dominated by giant reptiles.

Little by little these big-eyed shy beings expanded their diet and solved the digestive problems brought on by consuming plants. Our ancestors discovered that fruit and leaves were abundant. In order to exploit this new resource, evolution provided them with everything they needed.

Their vision improved to find ripe fruit. Their eyes moved to the front of their face and their hands evolved to grab and rip with precision. With this new binocular vision in color, their appendages fit for manipulation, and their ever increasing brain size, they slowly dominated the three-dimensional world of trees.