A Problem in the Bronx Zoo

We share 98% of our DNA with the Lowland Gorilla.  Can we say that we are fairly close on the evolutionary tree? Among the features that we have in common are opposable thumbs and finger nails. Finger nails?

Finger nails!  Think about it!  Finger nails grow… all the time! Do you think gorillas in the wild have nail clippers or emery boards? Perhaps they are inveterate nail biters?  Well… it turns out that within a gorilla troop there is one individual that is designated as a “manicurist”.  This falls in line with the cooperative “grooming” that is very much a part of primate behavior.  The gorilla manicurist uses a small rough-edged rock (perhaps a stick) to pare back the length of nails.  What is not known is whether the manicurist is role specific to a single gorilla in the troop, or whether the role is performed on a rotational basis within the troop.

But a problem has developed with gorillas in captivity.  Zoo keepers have failed at effectively replacing natural gorilla manicurists with human ones.  At the Bronx Zoo three manicurists from the Pop & Polish Nail Salon on Young Avenue were hired to take care of the Zoo’s gorilla population. It didn’t work. The manicurists complained about the gorillas’ brutish and rude behavior. One manicurist was livid at a young male making uninvited advances.  About the dominant male, another said, “All the big one did was grunt and try to look down my blouse!  I didn’t sign on for that!”   

OK, back to the drawing board…

n.b. In the wild, lowland gorillas use tree sap as a cure for painful in-grown toe nails.  There is much that we can learn from our primate cousins!

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