Monkey business

Primates are possibly the species nearest to man in the animal world

Khalid Saleem February 21, 2017
The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC

Going through a scrap book of some years ago, one came across the news item, datelined Palm Springs, California (USA), conveying the momentous tidings that Cheetah, the last actor to have played the lead chimpanzee role in the Tarzan movies of the 1930s and 1940s was alive and well. At seventy plus years of age, Cheetah was also reported to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest chimp in the world. Since no more recent report to the contrary has come to one’s attention, it can be assumed that Cheetah might still be up and about. Given Man’s propensity to be less than kind to his fellow species, it is good to know that at least one primate was doing well and was being properly looked after. According to the same news item, it was all due to a gentleman with the unlikely name of Des Westfall who apparently saved Cheetah’s life when he ‘adopted’ him from his uncle Tony Gentry, an animal trainer who worked in Hollywood. The report adds that Cheetah ‘lives the life of a retired movie star’. How apt!

Primates are possibly the species nearest to man in the animal world. Some time back, the results of another of those scientific research studies had made the rather interesting disclosure that monkeys had a ‘culture’ all their own. What this means is that the monkeys’ behaviour is not entirely the work of ‘intuition’. This would appear to indicate that unlike most other species monkeys can actually pick up ‘bad habits’. Where these simians exist in close proximity to humans, as in some places in India, they are bound to pick up some human habits — not all of them of a pleasant nature. Over the ages, humankind has earned the dubious distinction of being totally heartless vis-à-vis other species. In some instances, man has hunted certain species to near extinction, ironically in the name of ‘sport’. Humankind, one need hardly emphasise, is the one species that hunts down not only other species but also at times its own, again in the name of ‘sport’. The simians have been preferred victims of humankind’s cruelty for generations. Due to their physical similarities with humans, apes and monkeys have been the favoured targets of research laboratories as well as circuses and zoos.

On a slightly different note, films have contributed their bit in creating a sympathetic image of the apes. The Tarzan films in which Cheetah represented the lovable simian character is a case in point. As a matter of fact, while Tarzan himself was forgettable as a character, Cheetah’s role was more true to life. This role symbolised a most sympathetic image of a lovable animal to several generations of children around the world. Incidentally, King Kong was without doubt, perhaps the most interesting and arresting simian creature as is the ‘yeti’. ‘Sightings’ of this most mysterious and elusive character have been reported off and on from various parts of the world. No scientist, however, has so far managed to grasp sufficient evidence to conclusively prove its existence. Apart from the ‘sightings’, there have reportedly been discoveries of outsize footprints that, incidentally, have led to the appellation ‘big-foot’. One can only express the hope that when — and if — the scientific researchers and ‘big-foot’ come face to face, it turns out to be an amicable encounter. Indonesia that hosts a wide cross section of wild life, both flora and fauna, boasts of the presence of the biggest ape in existence, known locally by the lovable name of ‘orangutan’. These rather likeable and, by and large, gentle creatures have not had a fair deal at the hands of humans. Man has gone ahead to largely destroy the natural habitat of these apes, thereby pushing them to near extinction.

So, as one read of the good old Cheetah living the pampered life of a retired movie star in the resort town of Palm Springs, one got the uplifting picture of at least one simian who has made it in this cruel world. One has little sympathy for the likes of Tarzan, but may the legend of Cheetah live on!

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.

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Shakir Lakhani | 6 years ago | Reply Cheetah died at the age of 80 in 2011. As for "Primates are possibly the species nearest to man", they are in fact the only species closely related to us (not "possibly").
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