Humanity’s Closest Cousins

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors.  Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about jobs, and then blog about their experience online.  Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

The great apes—humanity’s closest cousins. They are remarkably—and sometimes unnervingly—intelligent. So how do you go from earning a degree in business management to training bonobos? Lead Keeper Kim Livingstone could tell you!

We met Ms. Livingstone in Scripps Aviary near the Monkey Trail in the San Diego Zoo. Her first job at the San Diego Zoo was working with the birds, so the aviary is like her “home in the Zoo.” However, her experience in training animals in a previous job opened the door to do training with the bonobos, and the rest (as they say) is history.

We met Ms. Livingstone in Scripps Aviary near the Monkey Trail in the San Diego Zoo. Her first job at the San Diego Zoo was working with the birds, so the aviary is like her “home in the Zoo.” However, her experience in training animals in a previous job opened the door to do training with the bonobos, and the rest (as they say) is history.

Ms. Livingstone took a winding path to get to where she is today. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to work with wildlife. She chose to pursue degree in Business Management since there is always an economic aspect to working with wildlife. After all, saving animals takes money and people, and they have to come from somewhere. She began her animal work experience at an animal quarantine facility in Miami before arriving at the San Diego Zoo.

Ms. Livingstone took a winding path to get to where she is today. She knew from a very young age that she wanted to work with wildlife. She chose to pursue degree in Business Management since there is always an economic aspect to working with wildlife. After all, saving animals takes money and people, and they have to come from somewhere. She began her animal work experience at an animal quarantine facility in Miami before arriving at the San Diego Zoo.

At first glance, bonobos might seem similar to chimpanzees, and they are! They are in the same genus (as closely related as they can be without being the same species) and they used to be called “pygmy chimpanzees.” However, bonobos are mostly vegetarians, while chimps do sometimes eat meat. Also, the females run bonobo society. Every male’s status is determined solely by the status of his mother.

At first glance, bonobos might seem similar to chimpanzees, and they are! They are in the same genus (as closely related as they can be without being the same species) and they used to be called “pygmy chimpanzees.” However, bonobos are mostly vegetarians, while chimps do sometimes eat meat. Also, the females run bonobo society. Every male’s status is determined solely by the status of his mother.

When I look at the way this bonobo is standing in this photo, I feel like it’s a little eerie how humanlike they are. Bonobos form social bonds very similar to humans; including unique relationships with their keepers, and can understand a few words, especially their names.

When I look at the way this bonobo is standing in this photo, I feel like it’s a little eerie how humanlike they are. Bonobos form social bonds very similar to humans; including unique relationships with their keepers, and can understand a few words, especially their names.

Bonobos are excellent climbers, and their exhibit is full of these climbing structures. A few minutes after I took this photo, a higher-ranking bonobo ran over and took over the structure. She then hung around, showing off, until we left.

Bonobos are excellent climbers, and their exhibit is full of these climbing structures. A few minutes after I took this photo, a higher-ranking bonobo ran over and took over the structure. She then hung around, showing off, until we left.

Ms. Livingstone and this female orangutan (Karen) have a special bond. Karen was born with some health issues and was raised by humans as a baby. Like many humans, she needed open heart surgery, successfully recovered and was eventually able to rejoin the other orangutans in their Zoo home.

Ms. Livingstone and this female orangutan (Karen) have a special bond. Karen was born with some health issues and was raised by humans as a baby. Like many humans, she needed open heart surgery, successfully recovered and was eventually able to rejoin the other orangutans in their Zoo home.

Janie is 52, which is quite old for an orangutan. Janie originally lived with a family in Europe—and a few other apes—until she came to the San Diego Zoo. Janie was once known to eat meals at table and wear human clothes, which is vastly different from the more natural lifestyle she has at the Zoo!

Janie is 52, which is quite old for an orangutan. Janie originally lived with a family in Europe—and a few other apes—until she came to the San Diego Zoo. Janie was once known to eat meals at table and wear human clothes, which is vastly different from the more natural lifestyle she has at the Zoo!

Orangutan males are solitary, preferring to live alone or in very small groups. Like many animals, the females and males don’t have much contact with each other except for breeding. However, the orangutans at the Zoo seem to enjoy hamming it up for the crowds.

Orangutan males are solitary, preferring to live alone or in very small groups. Like many animals, the females and males don’t have much contact with each other except for breeding. However, the orangutans at the Zoo seem to enjoy hamming it up for the crowds.

Humans and great apes may share more than just a common ancestor—we can share germs as well! Apes can catch most human diseases, from colds to the HIV virus, so a lot of protection and safety are taken into consideration. Keepers even wear long sleeves, gloves, and masks to make sure germs are not passed between humans and the primates they are caring for.

Humans and great apes may share more than just a common ancestor—we can share germs as well! Apes can catch most human diseases, from colds to the HIV virus, so a lot of protection and safety are taken into consideration. Keepers even wear long sleeves, gloves, and masks to make sure germs are not passed between humans and the primates they are caring for.

Last stop was the gorilla rooftop, which made for great viewing. They usually live in two types of groups: a group of females with their young, dominated by one adult male, or a group of bachelor males. The group (known as a troop) we saw was the latter. This handsome fellow is a silverback, a mature adult male. I wish I could call him a muscular monkey, but alas, he is a tailless ape with a more humanlike brain. I suppose that’s why all of these marvelous creatures are fascinating.

Last stop was the gorilla rooftop, which made for great viewing. They usually live in two types of groups: a group of females with their young, dominated by one adult male, or a group of bachelor males. The group (known as a troop) we saw was the latter. This handsome fellow is a silverback, a mature adult male. I wish I could call him a muscular monkey, but alas, he is a tailless ape with a more humanlike brain. I suppose that’s why all of these marvelous creatures are fascinating.

Sabrina, Photography Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2014

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