Primates and Elephants: An exploration of our near-person relatives
Primates, elephants and cetaceans are so close to humans in consciousness, memory and intelligence that one should call them persons, or if our own ego intervenes as near-persons. Of these the elephants are beings I have studied and conserved for over 30 years. There is a yearning in my being to understand a little more, the other terrestrial near persons, Primates.
Monkeys and apes evolved 50-75 million years ago and that evolution resulted eventually in our own species. To understand this evolution you must know the very earliest of primates and the ones closest to us.
I am planning four trips to understand apes and compare their personhood to elephants that I am already familiar with.
The first is to Sabah in Malaysia on the island of Borneo, where I will track the Bornean sub species of Asian elephant and the Bornean Orangutan. The island is also rich in many other primate species as well as a bewildering variety of wildlife.
Next in line will be Madagascar which is home to lemurs, an ancient wet-nosed monkey lineage. You must remember that 90-150 million years ago India and Madagascar were one land mass and in this has evolved one of the older primate lines. I aim to see at least 15 of the existing 100 species of lemurs ( all the different families). Also try see the fascinating fossa and the extraordinary and unique bird families of the island to understand its evolution.
On another trip to Africa cutting across from East and central Africa I would like to see the mountain and lowland gorillas, the bonobo ( our closest relative) and the western and eastern chimpanzee. I will also compare the forest and savanna elephants recently split as two new species
Finally in a trip through Sumatra we will see the Sumatran elephant and the newly described Tapanuli orangutans I will also try and track key genera of gibbons the other big ape in the region.
All this while we also look at spectacular birds and carnivores and forests to further understand the ecology and evolution of these mammals.
As I explore their minds and bodies and photograph them, I understand some of you wish to join me. I will be happy to share with you my experience and knowledge and partake my exploration in understanding these wonders of nature
Author- Vivek Menon