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Gorilla Introduction

Gorilla, largest of the great apes and one of the closest living relatives of the human species. Like chimpanzees, orangutans, and other great apes, gorillas are members of the primate order. Monkeys and humans also belong to this order. Until recently, accounts of the gorilla have portrayed a ferocious, powerful beast prone to attacking people. Such descriptions proliferated in various media, a prime example being the American motion-picture classic King Kong (1933). Only after 1960 did evidence emerge, from the field studies of American zoologists George B. Schaller and Dian Fossey, that the gorilla is a relatively gentle vegetarian who attacks only if directly threatened.

Fossils and genetic data indicate that the ancestral line of gorillas and chimpanzees split from that of humans about 5 million to 10 million years ago.

This divergence occurred far more recently than did the divergence of the line of orangutans, the only great apes of non-African origin. Because of their more recent divergence, gorillas and chimpanzees are more similar to humans than are any other living species. These similarities are apparent in their high intelligence, the shape of their hands and feet, their reproductive physiology, and infant development. Although chimpanzees solve experimental problems more easily than gorillas, gorillas appear to be more adept at acquiring human sign language.

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