Understanding the five types of great apes

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In most cases, when we talk about great apes, many people tend to think about gorillas and maybe chimps, but in total there are 5 different types of great apes in the world.

What are the five different types of apes?

1 Gorilla

Gorillas are one of the most famous great apes given the fact that they are closely related to humans sharing about 98% of our DNA. There are two broad species of gorillas, the eastern gorilla and the western gorillas. Each of these two gorilla species has got two subspecies including; mountain gorillas and eastern lowland gorilla under the eastern gorilla and western lowland gorilla and cross river gorilla under the western gorilla.

Gorillas originate from east central and equatorial west Africa with all the subspecies living within this region but in different environments. Mountain gorillas live in the montane forests of east central Africa in DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda while the east lowland gorillas are found in lowland forests in eastern DR Congo.

Like humans, gorillas also live in families with a harem structure with one male dominant male and multiple females with their offspring. However, the case is a bit different among mountain gorillas who have more than one adult male in a single group but with a leading silverback.

In terms of feeding, gorillas are herbivorous eating mostly vegetation like bamboo shoots and some fruits. Although gorillas are always related to humans in so many ways, but in terms of energy, they are about ten times stronger than the average adult human male.

2 Chimpanzee

Chimps are even more closely related to humans than gorillas with their DNA roughly 99% in common with ours. There is only one species of chimpanzee, the common chimpanzee though they are divided into four subspecies that are divided by location. Their population can be found in central Africa, and in the north, east and west of River Congo.

Chimpanzees are highly social in nature forming very large groups that are divided into smaller sections when traveling and foraging especially in periods when food is limited. Unlike gorillas that are largely vegetarians, chimps are known to occasionally eat meat and insects and sometimes they hunt down smaller mammals for food including monkeys. However, chimps mainly consume fruit as their main diet and they are considered as omnivorous frugivores.
Amazingly, research found out that chimps and bonobos are more closely related to humans than to gorillas and other apes.

3 Orangutan

Orangutans are the only non-human great native to Asia. Their name is translated as “person of the forest”, and they share about 97% of the human DNA. There are 3 species of orangutans including Bornean (with 3 subspecies), Sumatran, and the recently discovered species of Tapanui. All the three species of orangutans are found in Indonesia with both the Sumatran and Tapanui located on the Island of Sumatran while the Bornean are located on the Island of Borneo.

Unlike other great apes, orangutans are less social and they are semi solitary as they only meet for mating though sometimes they may forage in the same trees. Orangutan infants stay with their moms for about 8 years before they depart to become solitary. Orangutans are also considered frugivores like chimps however they don’t hunt and consume meat like their counterparts. Apart from mammals, orangutans have the longest childhood among all land mammals.

4 Bonobo

The bonobos were previously known as pygmy chimpanzee and they share about 99% DNA with humans. They look very similar with common chimpanzees but bonobos can be distinguished by their slender built and light colored lips. Bonobos don’t have any subspecies and they are only found in DR Congo, south of the Congo river. The social structure of the bonobos is similar to that of chimps only that the latter’s societies, females lead the group. Their diet is majorly made up of fruits and they are also considered omnivorous frugivores and like chimps they sometimes consume meat including that of small primates though they don’t actively hunt them.

5 Human

Humans are referred to as “Homo sapiens”, translating to “wise man”, and is the only surviving human species currently. Humans diverged from other great apes between 5 and 7 million years ago and from Homo erectus, the most closely related human species about 500,000 years ago.

Today humans are scattered across several continents worldwide but we all originated from the African continent. Humans are highly social primates associated with a variety of complex social structures and mating systems, ranging from monogamy to polyandry. Human skulls are built to process many different types of food matter and they are true omnivores. Unlike other great apes, humans walk bipedally to allow for better support of our heavy brains while hands can handle tool usage. Whereas all other species of great apes are endangered, humans are not.

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