Planet Ape


The definitive guide to the great apes and how they compare with us, their closest living relatives.

Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans are only a hair's breadth away from us in evolutionary terms; our DNA differs by just a few percent. These fascinating creatures hold up a mirror to humanity, giving us insights into our past, our present and perhaps even our future.

Planet Ape reveals the great apes in unprecedented detail: where ...

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The definitive guide to the great apes and how they compare with us, their closest living relatives.

Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans are only a hair's breadth away from us in evolutionary terms; our DNA differs by just a few percent. These fascinating creatures hold up a mirror to humanity, giving us insights into our past, our present and perhaps even our future.

Planet Ape reveals the great apes in unprecedented detail: where they live, how they live and the challenges they face. Using innovative artworks, photographs and text, the book makes key comparisons between apes and human beings, including:

  • Anatomy
  • Diet
  • Social life
  • Courtship and breeding
  • Physical and mental development
  • Communication.

From peace-loving bonobos to warring chimpanzee communities and from highly sociable gorillas to solitary orangutans, Planet Ape is the first book to do justice to the diversity and complexity of the ape world and what it tells us about our own.

Unimaginable habitat loss, war, hunting and disease all threaten to wipe the great apes from the wild. Planet Ape seizes the moment, examining attempts to safeguard these species, including reserves, captive breeding and reintroduction.

A proportion of the royalties will be donated to charities working to conserve apes, so buying this book makes an immediate, practical contribution.

A spectacular and authoritative survey of our nearest non-human relatives, full of insight about them - and about ourselves. —
David Attenborough

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
An observer of human and animal behavior for over six decades, zoologist Morris (The Naked Ape) has written an elegant book on the natural lives of the chimpanzee, bonobo, orangutan, and gorilla. In fascinating detail, he presents decades of research about their anatomy, diet, social and sexual lives, life stages, intelligence, and communication skills. Bringing this information to life is an extraordinary variety of photos documenting both the magnificence and the fragility of these animals as they eat, sleep, play, fight, and raise families. This eloquent tribute to our closest evolutionary relatives is also Morris's plea for their survival in the wild. Every species of great ape is now so endangered that they could disappear from their natural habitat within a few decades. VERDICT The prolific author writes with provocative insight and a profound appreciation for the natural world. His latest will delight his fans, wildlife enthusiasts, and those who enjoyed Biruté Galdikas's Great Ape Odyssey.—Cynthia Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Lib., Flemington, NJ
The Globe and Mail Gift Books Special
Known primarily as an observer of the human animal, Desmond Morris now turns his considerable observational powers to our closest relatives, the apes. Although the book is full of wonderful photographs, it's much more than a coffee-table book. Rather, it's a complete and innovative look at the complex world of apes, the lives they lead and the challenges they face, mostly from not-so-sapient humans. If you had any doubts about our duty to protect them, you won't after reading this.
Louisville Voice-Tribune - Roger Showley
Nature is best seen in person, but the stop action and poses in oversized books erase the boundary between man and environment. That's most evident in Planet which human and ape are compared and contrasted brilliantly.
Saskatoon Star Phoenix - Bill Robertson
"In this sumptuously illustrated book Morris looks at the great apes, including chimpanzees, monkeys, and the ones reading this paper, human beings.
USA Today - Dan Vergano
Zoologist Desmond Morris (with Steve Parker) takes readers on a tour of the homes of our closest relatives, the great apes. Gorillas, chimps, bonobos and orangutans answer the questions of what our ancient ancestors left behind in the dense rainforests of the world. "For every hairy ape, there are some 20,000 naked apes," aka humans. Desmond notes, decrying the threat of extinction stalking our forest cousins.
David Attenborough
A spectacular and authoritative survey of our nearest non-human relatives, full of insight about them—and about ourselves.
Science Books and Film - Robert M. Schoch
This beautiful volume is a cross between a coffee-table book and a thorough compendium of ape behavior, anatomy, taxonomy, and lore. An exceptional value for the money, the book invites the reader to explore the world of our closest-living nonhuman relatives. The reader will find it difficult to put down, but that is what one would expect from the author, the well-known British zoologist, ethnologist, author, and painter Desmond Morris. The book reads well, is packed full of exciting information, and is just plain fun to browse for hours... It seems that everything you can imagine about apes is discussed in this book... This really is a book for everyone, and it should be in all school and college libraries. I also recommend it as a great gift for anyone interested in wildlife generally or primates in particular.
National Science Teachers Association - Claudia Fetters
The outstanding, beautiful book describes the great apes and the manner in which humans interact with them. The biology, ecology, and sociology of these animals are covered expertly with excellent full-color photography. I recommend this book for any school library... This book is easy to read and engaging, with many illustrations and diagrams as well as great photos. It provides a balanced perspective on these animals and is highly recommended. Gr 6-College
January Magazine - Linda L. Richards
This is a fantastic book. One cannot imagine a better one on this topic. It is gorgeous enough to sit on a coffee table, yet informative enough for the reference section of a library. Wonderful photos illustrate page upon page of facts and thoughts and ideas. And in the true tradition of a book by Morris, you not only learn about the subject at hand, you are also pushed to think independently about what all these facts might mean. The information is shared in a thoughtful, intelligent way and, without even realizing it, we end up learning as much about ourselves as we do about the apes Morris obviously has a very real affection for. A portion of the profits generated by Planet Ape are earmarked for charities who are working to conserve the apes Morris and co-author Parker deliver to us so vividly. Once you've experienced Planet Ape, you'll understand just how important that is.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594202547
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/10/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 9.80 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Desmond Morris is an internationally famous zoologist, ethnologist and artist. He is a prolific author, whose works include The Naked Ape, Manwatching and Amazing Baby.

Steve Parker is a senior scientific fellow of the Zoological Society of London and has worked for London's Natural History Museum.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Meet the Great Apes
What is a Great Ape?
Evolution of the Primates
Where do the great apes live?

Family Portraits
Bornean orangutan
Sumatran orangutan
Western gorilla
Mountain gorilla
Old World
New World monkeys

Of Apes and Men
Shared traits of the great apes
The story of DNA
Extinct ancestors
Living relatives?
Uniquely human
How the human species advanced
The hunted ape
The performing ape
Apes observed
Apes studied in the wild
Ape intelligence
Apes and sign language
Apes in experiments

Ape Anatomy
Apes on the outside
Size and shape
Bones, bodies, and limbs
Skeleton and posture
Muscles and moving
Hands and feet
Brains and Nerves
Internal organs

The Daily Meal
Feeding and tool-use
Essentials of diet
Daily needs
Diet and dentition
A life of plants
Foraging strategies
Feeding routine: orangutan
On the hunt

Communication Skills
Why communicate?
Visual signals
Messages through sound
Touch, scent, and smell

Social Life
Family matters
Living in numbers
Apes alone
Who's in charge
Social climbing
Joining and leaving

Sex Life
How many mates?
Starting out
Breeding Cycles
Birth and babies

The Stages Of Life
Milestones of infancy
Illness, injury, and death

Natural threats
Habitat destruction
Hunting and poaching

Not enough genes

Saving Planet Ape
Global efforts
Charity work
Ecotourism and community efforts
Rehabilitation and reintroduction
How we can help

Charities & Organizations
Index & Acknowledgments

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When dawn breaks tomorrow on this small planet, seven types of great ape will get up out of their comfortable beds, stretch their limbs and start contemplating the first meal of the day. Six of these apes are on the verge of extinction; one is an unparalleled success. The six that are about to disappear are the western and eastern gorillas, the chimpanzee, and the bonobo, all of tropical Africa, and the two orangutan species of Borneo and Sumatra. The one that is on the verge of exterminating them is the naked ape, the animal usually referred to as the human being.

If this statement sounds melodramatic, consider the population figures. In the early years of the 21st century there are 6,600 million naked apes, occupying almost every corner of the Earth's landmasses. Forty years ago there were only 3,300 million of them, so their numbers have doubled since then. And they are still increasing. Current estimates predict a rise to 9,000 million by 2050.

Many species have ways of controlling their breeding rate, so that their populations stabilize and they do not outstrip their resources, but naked apes seem to lack these controls. Their numbers rise and rise and nothing is allowed to stand in their way. On a vast scale, wild places are tamed, forests become plantations, and grasslands become fields.

As a result of this human population explosion, each year there is less and less space for the other great apes and their present population figures confirm their increasingly desperate situation. At present it is estimated that there are probably fewer than 200,000 chimpanzees and bonobos, 140,000 gorillas and 40,000 orangutans alive in the wild. This makes a total of less than 400,000. To put it another way, for every hairy ape there are some 20,000 naked apes. So, in evolutionary terms,we are the winners and can congratulate ourselves on having almost obliterated our biological rivals. They may have retreated into the depths of the tropical forests and in this way escaped the attentions of our prehistoric ancestors, but it has failed to save them from our modern hordes: the loggers, the bushmeat hunters, the encroaching farmers and the rest.

If we do exterminate them, as now seems likely, it will be a sad day, a Pyrrhic victory, for two very special reasons. First, they are fascinating animals in their own right and, like all dramatically unusual species, enrich our lives on this wonderful little planet, where thanks to a host of astronomical coincidences, life forms have been able to develop and grow into more than 10 million distinct kinds. Of these, very few indeed have made the grade to become large, complex organisms, and we should cherish them, if only for their dramatic presence alongside us.

Second, and more importantly, we should respect our great ape relatives because they are a constant reminder to us that we are a part of nature and not above it. Genetically they are so close to us that their existence makes it impossible for any rational person to imagine that we humans have nothing to do with animal evolution. They force us to accept that we are part of the biosphere rather than being a separate, mystical creation.

Half a century ago, when scientists first really began to insist that we should view human beings as risen apes rather than as fallen angels there was an outcry. Many people were still clinging to the old idea that only humans have souls and that animals are brute beasts placed on Earth for us to use as we see fit. For centuries this arrogant philosophy had led to endless animal abuses and untold cruelties. From the mass animal slaughters of the Roman arena, to the torturing of animals as a royal entertainment in Elizabethan times, to the big-game hunting of the 19th century (which saw gorillas first killed in large numbers), few people gave a thought to the suffering of the creatures they were assaulting. If these animals were only brute beasts then obviously they had no feelings, other than rage and savagery when they were cornered and tormented.

But then, after Darwin introduced the concept of evolution, and animal-welfare societies began to flourish, attitudes slowly began to change. More and more people started to go out into the field to study natural history and to marvel at the wonders of nature. Instead of hunting, capturing, and killing wildlife, they watched it, and recorded what they saw.

At first, this was done mostly near to home. For a long time,we knew much more about British pond-life than we did about the exotic species that inhabited tropical forests. Africa was still a 'Dark Continent' full of mysteries and mortal dangers. In particular, the great apes, especially the gorillas, were looked upon as far too violent and dangerous to study at close quarters.

It was not until the middle of the 20th century that all this changed. Then, at last, observers began to penetrate the tropical forests and bring back first-hand accounts of great ape behaviour, and it was not what people were expecting. Gorillas turned out to be amazingly gentle giants and chimpanzees, although more volatile and irascible, were discovered to be inventive tool-users with a complex and subtly organized social life.

If explorers wanted to shoot wild animals now it was done with a camera rather than a gun. In particular, television documentaries opened everyone's eyes to the fascinating world occupied by our animal relatives. For the first time, voices were raised against the use of apes in medical research. And zoos were forced to provide their apes with social companions in large, complex enclosures. Solitary confinement in bare cages became a thing of the past in all reputable zoos,
with the backward ones now looking increasingly primitive and out of step.

It was as though, without quite realizing it, the public was slowly accepting its close affinity with the great apes. Now, at last, people were beginning to worry about the survival of their primate relatives, rather than wanting to hunt them, experiment on them, or giggle at them dressed up as clowns. The hairy great apes had finally come of age in the consciousness of humankind. Attitudes of fear and ridicule were being replaced with respect and an intense curiosity about their lives. It is this curiosity that Planet Ape sets out to satisfy and in doing so will, I hope, also help in the struggle to save these magnificent animals before it is too late.

Desmond Morris

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