Saturday, 1 March 2014

Beware of the Man-Eating Apes

     A grieving female ape, having carried around her dead baby for several days, sees a human infant lying in a makeshift crib. Overjoyed, she drops the carcass of her own baby into the crib, and adopts the human one. This, of course, is the premise at the heart of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic novel, Tarzan of the Apes. And it is also just about the most plausible aspect of the story. Bereft animal mothers have been known to adopt all sorts of unusual substitutes. Nevertheless, chimpanzees are carnivorous; their propensity for hunting monkeys in groups is legendary. Indeed, it has been pointed out on more than one occasion that, barring the unusual circumstances of Burroughs' novel, a chimpanzee would be more likely to eat a human baby than to adopt it. But I wasn't aware until now that such things had actually happened.
     In 2012 John Bindernagel and Jeff Meldrum wrote an essay on the sasquatch, and on page 87 there appears the following passage. (Don't be alarmed; the essay starts at page 81.)
A former park ranger in Uganda related an incident in which a chimpanzee stole a native baby that had been parked beside the fields while its mother labored. The infant had been killed and partially eaten before the pursuing villagers could retrieve it. Ethnologist F. W. H. Migoed, while in Sierra Leone, examined a 12-year-old boy that had been attacked and badly torn by a chimpanzee, and reported this behavior in an historical account from 1926. Under the heading, "Man-Killing Apes", he wrote, "This species of ape runs to a large size in Sierra Leone," and "noted for its ferocity ... will without hesitation when it gets the chance attack children and run off with them with the intent to kill them." In a recent news report from Uganda, a growing number of such abductions have come to light. At least eight children have died over a seven-year period, and as many were seriously injured. Dr. Michael Gavin, a conservation biologist, who documented one of the most recent incidents observed, "They [chimps] are just trying to get by. If they can't get enough food in the forest, they are going to wander out in search of what's available."

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