Written by Guest Contributor, Jesse Hildebrand.
Chimpanzees laugh when tickled. That’s right – for those stealthy and foolhardy enough to sneak up on a chimp, it is indeed possible to tickle it into submission. Chimpanzees are of course our closest living relatives, and, having only split off from humankind in the history of life about 6 million years ago they share nearly 99% of our DNA. There are, of course, many differences between the two species; we stand on two legs, we have bigger brains, we are relatively hairless and yes, we like hockey. However, it seems the more we discover about our closest cousins, the more we realize we are alike.
The first time it was firmly argued that we are cousins came of course with the publication of On the Origin of Species. Detractors of that theory posed that our brains were different, that we had something that they didn’t – the seat of the soul, perhaps. Of course, as it turns out, our brains are structurally identical even if ours are larger. In fact, our whole bodies are the same, same bones, same muscles, and for sticklers the same number of fingers and toes. As time went on and more research came to light, it became uncanny just how much we shared. Chimpanzees use tools, they hunt in groups, they share, they play, they empathize and yes, they laugh. Chimpanzee research did a great deal to show just how much we share with the animal kingdom, or alternatively, just how much they share with us. In time, more and more animals were found to have these traits. Rats are empathetic, bats share, bears play and over twenty other species use tools.
One of the best lines on just how close other animals are to us comes from David Attenborough. Then a young presenter doing his first full series, he went to see the mountain gorillas of Rwanda – “There is perhaps more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know. We are so similar, their sight, their hearing, their sense of smell are so similar to ours that we see the world as they do.” Whether a gorilla, a chimpanzee, an orangutan or any of the other species that share the world with us, it is worth reflecting on the astounding number of similarities we share rather than the differences that separate us.
There are few things more human than tickling. The fun, the playfulness, the only time you can yell “STOP!” and not mean it. And yet, chimpanzees do it too. Whether sharing nearly 99% of our DNA as they do or not, nothing reinforces our connection to nature better than that to me.
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