by Greg Mayer
Three gorilla brothers, Kesho, Alf, and Evindi, were recently reunited at Longleat Safari Park, after Kesho had been separated as part of a breeding program. As reported in an article in The Sun (entitled “Gorillas in the Missed”!), and visible in a slideshow at the BBC, the reunion has gone quite well.
There had been some concern whether they would remember each other, but keeper Mark Tye said
The moment they met, you could see the recognition in their eyes. It’s like they’ve never been apart.
while Ian Redmond of the Ape Alliance noted
What you’re seeing is exactly what you think you’re seeing. Two intelligent social mammals, who were separate, are pleased to see each other again and play together. It is gorilla joy, being reunited with someone you used to have good times with and now you can again, so it’s gorilla happiness.
While we normally emphasize cats, owls, and bears here at WEIT, these gorillas help illustrate a larger point concerning the evolution of complex social behavior and what Darwin called the moral sense. It has always seemed very odd to me that many people, including such respected and successful biologists as Francis Collins and Francisco Ayala, maintain that there is a gulf between animal and human behavior, which some (though not all) would fill with miracles. Even a passing acquaintance with the behavior of a phylogenetically diverse group of vertebrates (say, a toad, a turtle, and a cat, for starters) presents a prima facie case for the continuity of development of social, behavioral, and even moral complexity in animals, and I find the inability to see this as puzzling. Apes and other primates add yet another step in this continuity (see also this recent post by Jerry), and the evident richness of the cognitive world of these gorillas adds to our appreciation that while we do, indeed, differ from gorillas, they too have come a long way from our fishy forebears, and are relatively not that far behind.