Friday, May 12, 2006


The family Hominidae is the family of the great apes and Gibbons also referred to as the Hominid family and is composed of gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans1. We look at each of them individually.

Gibbons are fruit eating small apes of the family Hylobatidae, can walk on two legs with their arms up for balance2. They live in pairs and can have their offspring in their families. Can swing from branch to branch like the monkeys and can run on tree branches as they have a small weight. 6 Their wrists have joint of the ball and socket formation which allows for biaxial movements and have long legs and hands. Their thumb is detached from the other fingers and is near the wrist for grasping ability2, 6. They are territorial and make colour displays and vocal sounds that are very loud2. They are found in Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia) 2.

The name Orang-Utans is a Malay name meaning "man of the forest"3. Orangutans are members of the so called great apes. Unlike the gibbons the Orang-Utans can not swing from branch to branch because of their massive weight but stretch their arms to reach to the next strong branches to move on trees6. They feed on fruits even though many at times they cannot reach the fruits high up in soft branches. They can grip on all four arms and have loose joints on their four legs. Males have a throat sac that they inflate to produce sounds for a period up to about three minute. They are solitary animals that walk alone with only females walk together with their young. This is necessitated by their size and being fruit feeders so they need to look for food alone6.

Gorillas are herbivorous (vegetarian) hominids that live in Africa especially Central Africa with a DNA almost similar to that of human (92-98%) 4. The young gorillas (adults rarely climb) are the ones that climb trees as they don’t have grasping feet like the Orang-Utans and when they climb down they lower their legs first then the rest of the body6. They are heavily built with a big weight and can’t move from branch to branch like other apes do. The male weighs up to 275kgs and grow up to 1.75m tall with the females weighing half the weight4. They live in a family pack of about twelve led by a silver-back male with several females and they sleep on the ground. They move by knuckle walking and have such immense strength4, 6. They rarely make calls but make grunts and gurgles and when an individual is lost makes a belch to be located but in case it’s threatened by intrusion may roar or charge. This animal is fierce looking relative of man with many similar actions like man. It is the second closest ape to man after the chimps6.

The chimpanzees, like gorillas live in Africa6. They feed on many varieties of leaves the and in addition, termites, ants, honey, birds' eggs, birds and even small mammals like monkeys. They live in bigger families than those of gorillas but of different sizes. They feed and sleep on trees and are good climbers and walk on their knuckles on four legs and with stiffly-held long arms for keeping their shoulders high. Sometimes they can settle on the ground but there is always activity6. Some chimps practice monogamy but some males’ mate many females (when receptive the hind quarters turn pink) and the viceversa. There is a strong attachment between the mother and the young normally clinging to the mother with its fists. This helps the mother to teach the young various things and protect them from danger6. There’s a great deal of socialisation among chimps with hair grooming, respect of the elders, greetings after new encounter and care of young. Chimpanzees are highly intelligent and are known to make tools like picking twigs and placing them on an anthill collecting ants and eating them from the twig6. They have a DNA 95 to 99.4% similar to that of humans7

The other members are humans who are bipedal intelligent beings. They have the ability of reasoning, speech and language. They also can make their own tools and have evolved to occupy all corners of the world5.


1. Wikipedia contributors. Hominidae [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 10, 02:58 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:

2. Wikipedia contributors. Gibbon [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 11, 14:19 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:

3. Wikipedia contributors. Orangutan [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 11, 16:24 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:

4. Wikipedia contributors. Gorilla [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 11, 18:21 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:

5. Wikipedia contributors. Human [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 11, 18:28 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:

6. Knight, R. BCB Biodiversity chapter 2 A Life in the Trees (Cited 2006 May 11)

7. Wikipedia contributors. Chimpanzee [Internet]. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia; 2006 May 11, 17:33 UTC [cited 2006 May 11]. Available from:


Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

University of the Western Cape

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