Going Ape Over Prehistoric Fossils and Baby Gorillas

Recently I figured out how to subscribe to BBC News’s Daily Email. Hence blogs like Radioactivity Less Dangerous to Animals Then Man? and now this one might be created with more frequency.

Today’s BBC email sort of had a theme to it: primates. Very, very old ones as well as a precious little newcomer.

New Species of Great Ape Discovered

Researchers studying the Afar rift in eastern Ethiopia found nine fossilized teeth estimated to be 10 million years old. They suspected the teeth belonged to a member of the gorilla family, but after running tests, making comparisons and doing whatever it is that researchers do to determine such things, they decided the teeth didn’t belong to any already documented species.

The find is significant for two reasons:

1) Only one other ape fossil has been found from the period during which the owner of the teeth would have existed. (The period is known as the Miocene Epoch, and that fossil belonged to another species, Samburupithecus. This latest discovery has been dubbed Chororapithecus abyssinicus.) That makes this a rare and exciting find.

2) It raised new questions about when gorillas and humans made the split from a common ancestor. This was news to me, but apparently there’s genetic evidence (this was the part that was news to me; I hadn’t realized the theory of evolution had such evidence to base itself on) suggesting the split came about eight million years ago. Because of this find the researchers are now supposing the split may have even happened earlier, say 10.5 million years.

Another link in our chain of trying to figure out where we came from perhaps?

Celebrating Baby in the Virunga National Park

Until I watched Gorillas in the Mist (this was before my ban on movies with or about animals in them), I never knew or understood how endangered mountain gorillas were.

They became even more endangered this year when one percent of their population was executed by gunmen. (The killings were deemed executions by conservationists because the bodies were left behind instead of taken for food or trophies by poachers.)

To put in perspective just how endangered they are…only nine gorillas were killed. When I say “only” I’m not trying to minimize it as if to say, “It could have been more.” Au contraire. If only nine gorillas makes up one percent of the population…well, that’s quite the significant loss.

At any rate, that’s why there’s cause for celebration today. On Tuesday, a ranger monitoring a group of gorillas known as the Munyaga family discovered they had a new tribe member: a little baby male gorilla.

So far he’s a healthy, bouncy baby boy and rangers are going to do their best to keep him and his family safe from gunmen, poachers, and the like.