Reaching for the trees


It is 2018, the 4th of January. Myself and assistant DB are leopard-crawling through mud while clinging vines and thorn branches obstruct our mission: that being to locate the identity behind the primate “pyow” vocalizations at the site of the vervet monkey sleeping tree at 6.30 am.

 “If only we could move through the trees the way they do”, DB says looking up into densely packed branches that stretch over forty metres high.  


“If only I hadn’t evolved this deep into humanity and instead had those fabulous dexterous opposing toes and thumbs and dense protective hair,” I think privately. Imagine – if you can – how life would be had humans hybridized with chimps somewhere along our evolutionary branch and gone on to form a human species that would enable us to navigate the forest canopy today.

Everyone with European descent – including myself – has a small percentage of neanderthal in their DNA. Whether that small amount of “caveman” DNA has anything to do with our limited ability to fly through trees is debatable. Our arboreal habits apparently occurred long before we hybridized with Neanderthals. According to a science analysis of human wrist anatomy written in 2009, early humans spent a lot of time in trees.

 I look down at my wrists and hands. In this moment of time, this hypothesis seems appealing – they don’t look anything terrestrial-gorilla-ish.

The monkey troop we’ve been following have moved effortlessly ahead of us along the canopy of the forest while we struggle through branches looking for a familiar pathway. I’m reminded once again of the dependent relationship we primates have with the environment we live in and some of the questions raised by Richard Dawkins about the way we view the world

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