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10 Reasons the Planet of the Apes Could Actually Happen

by Joseph Duprey
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

We’ve all seen at least one of those nine Planet of the Apes movies wherein simians take over the world, dominating and enslaving mankind in the process. Could this possibly happen in real life?

It wouldn’t be the first time sci-fi has prepared us for actual developments in the real world around us, and after the past two years, it’s hard to declare anything impossible as we unroll into the future. So let us at least examine the possibilities…

Related: 10 Crimes That Weren’t Committed By Humans

10 Apes Are Super Smart!

Chimp vs Human! | Memory Test | BBC Earth

“The proper study of apes is apes.”—Dr. Honorious (Planet of the Apes)

Intelligence can be measured in a variety of ways. Many different factors make up human intellect, and most of them are clearly superior to those of an ape. But researchers have found that chimps, in particular, perform far better in many other areas.

In the year 2000, a rather sharp-witted chimpanzee named Ayumu was born at Kyoto University in Japan. His mother, Ai, had been taught to count to nine with visual recognition of the Arabic numerals. They were one of three mother-infant pairs introduced to a computer memorization game. After viewing the numbers 1 through 9 popping up randomly on the screen, they would then attempt to select them in order, the digits turning to white squares after the first touch. They did amazingly well (each time rewarded by a peanut) with Ayumu clearly the champ, but when they were pitted against human players, the results were absolutely astounding!

In a 2007 study led by primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa, several college students were taught to play the game and given plenty of practice before going up against the chimps, who were remarkably better and faster. Ayumu kept his title of champ, with review times as short as two-tenths of a second before attempting to start the game, with an 80% success rate compared to a 40% average for the students. Not all of the other chimps did as well as Ayumu, but they all did better than the students, proving that chimpanzees have a much better grasp at short-term memory using mental snapshots than we do.

And in a separate study at Kyoto University, pairs of chimps and pairs of student volunteers engaged in simple strategy games dependent on predicting the selections of an opponent. In game theory, there is a strategic balance of sorts called the Nash equilibrium, and the pairs of chimps came much closer to this concept than the human teams possibly could. Researchers reason that this non-verbal understanding perhaps replaces their lack of verbal language, which humans have acquired.

Researchers also point out the reason chimps outdo humans in certain mental abilities is that these functions are necessary to carry out activities needed for survival. Unfortunately, one of the activities chimpanzees frequently perform is fighting one another![1]

9 Chimps Are Known to Make War with Each Other

World War Chimp | The Brutal 1974 – 1978 Gombe Chimpanzee War: Documentary

“Ape not kill ape.”—Koba (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes)

At 26, Jane Goodall entered the world of chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park in what would later become the eastern African country of Tanzania. She was astonished to discover that they had the ability to make and utilize tools from grass and twigs. She was also shocked to find that they systematically hunted, killed, and ate smaller primates such as the colobus monkey. This discovery was contrary to then-current beliefs about their diet and nonaggressive behavior.

But she was even further disheartened when actual war broke out in 1974 (commonly referred to as the Gombe Chimpanzee War) between two divergent groups of apes, which started when six males from one community ambushed a rival male and slew him. Goodall then witnessed the “warriors” celebrating their victory by throwing tree branches in a boisterous manner. This war went on for four years, and as occupied territories changed and overlapped, the hostilities spread to peripheral communities of chimps. There was widespread brutality, murder, and kidnapping, and Goodall was kept awake at night by ghastly visions such as one ape drinking the blood from another’s wound and that of a once kindly elder casting a large rock at a fallen chimp.

The truth is that male chimpanzees often wage war with organized force and sheer brutality. Goodall even had the misfortune of witnessing a dominant female commit cannibalistic infanticide in 1975. It’s normal for adult chimps to patrol the borders of their territory in groups of up to 50 males, often encroaching upon neighboring communities and murdering any other male they come across. Their military forays are very similar to the heinous war atrocities committed by man, including horrific acts such as rape, torture, and even genocide!

Chimpanzees and humans share a common ancestor, and the savage nature of this primordial beast must have played an enormous part in its survival if it still remains within both species, and egregiously so, to this day.[2]

8 Chimps Waging War on Gorillas

Lethal Coalitionary Chimpanzee Attack on Group of Gorillas

“Ape has never killed ape, let alone an ape child.”—Virgil (Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

While it’s been certainly documented that chimpanzees don’t always treat their neighbors well, up until recently, they’ve basically picked on their own kind. But at the Loango National Park in Gabon, they’ve recently been targeting gorillas.

The two types of apes have traditionally coexisted peacefully in the wild even when their food sources overlap. Still, since 2019, the same band of 27 chimps has twice attacked much smaller groups of western lowland gorillas. Both times the male gorillas fought the best they could but were overwhelmed, and both attacks ended in the slaughter of an infant—one of which the attacking chimps ate. The fact that one of the gorilla babies was devoured led to speculation that perhaps the chimps had thought it to be a small monkey, which they often chow down on, but other possible causes seem much more plausible.

Global warming is not being kind to the rainforests of Gabon, and fruit is becoming harder and harder to find, causing increased competitiveness between the inhabitants that eat it. The fact that both attacks occurred during a time of year when fruit is generally scarcer and that these onslaughts happened while the male chimps were doing their border patrol routine suggests that they were just two more examples of their ongoing turf war against other groups of apes encroaching on their territory. The only difference is that chimpanzees have never been known to fight with gorillas before. This is truly a first!

It’s going to get even more competitive between rival communities and species of apes in the African rainforests during the coming years, as the fruit they already share with other animals such as elephants becomes less and less available. Only time will tell if chimpanzees, in the absence of adequate food sources from the vine, will increasingly turn toward a carnivorous, and often cannibalistic, diet…[3]

7 Chimps Waging War Against Man

Boy Mauled By Chimps to Undergo Facial Surgery

“The only good human is a dead human!”—General Ursus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

Due to habitat loss through deforestation, the chimpanzees of western Uganda are frequently clashing with the local human population, and the apes are mainly picking on the most defenseless—the children! In 2014, in the village of Kyamajaka, an adult chimp jumped a fence into a family’s garden and kidnapped a two-year-old child. Villagers ran after them, but before they could retrieve the boy, the chimp had torn off one of the child’s arms and ripped out his kidneys. The child died on the way to the hospital.

This is part of an ongoing chimp campaign to raid crops that have encroached upon their habitat and attack the keepers of these crops—humans! This section of Uganda has a long history of chimp attacks on children, and in the ’90s, some of them were even partially eaten by a notorious male gone rouge. Since that 2014 attack, three more children have been killed, and several have been injured, and as farming continues to consume what used to be lush rainforest in the western part of the country, we can only assume the attacks will continue as well. Ironically, it’s illegal to shoot a chimpanzee in Uganda, though many people are prepared to do so if necessary.

Also, in 2014, over in the Congo, three young children were attacked by a group of chimps while playing near a nature preserve. Two of them were killed, and the third, a six-year-old boy, survived but with disfiguring injuries as most of his lower face was torn off. He was flown to New York in 2016 for reconstructive surgery to help him talk and eat normally, but he was left severely disfigured. Unfortunately, the Congo, much like Uganda, is home to many attacks of this nature as the chimpanzees’ territory shrinks and their food supplies diminish.[4]

6 Don’t Pick a Fight with a Chimp

How to Survive a Chimpanzee Attack

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”—Taylor (Planet of the Apes)

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives of all the primates, as we share 98.8% of our DNA with them. And that other 1.2% must contain an awful lot of fighting genes because a ticked-off adult chimp can be brutal! A large male can weigh in at up to 68 kilograms (150 pounds) and reach a standing height of over 1.6 meters (five feet), and these fellas are about 1.5 times stronger than the average man.

And they can do a lot with that advantage, especially taking into account that they have canine fangs like arrowheads and claw-like nails protruding from basically four hands, all of which are adept at tearing off body parts of an opponent. To put it mildly—chimps fight nasty! They’ve been known to rip off faces, scalps, hands, and male genitals, and they work themselves up into such a frenzy that only a bullet or two can stop them. It is impossible for a man to successfully fight an adult male chimp in hand-to-hand combat, and experts say if you find yourself in that position, it’s best to jump into a body of water, as they are horrible swimmers.

You’d be far better off angering a male gorilla, which can weigh in at up to 182 kilograms (400 pounds) and have the strength of several men, but they are fortunately peaceful and rarely attack humans unless they feel threatened. If one ever does charge, it’s best to crouch, stay calm, and don’t look the beast in the eyes. Showing that you’re no threat to it will probably avert the attack, which was probably a bluff to start with as gorillas are much more defensive creatures than aggressive ones.

Orangutans are even more docile, and attacks on people are extremely rare. If, however, for whatever reason, you found yourself in a Borneo rainforest annoying one of them, they’d more than likely plant a squeaky kiss into a handful of leaves, push a dead tree over in your direction, and then run in the opposite direction. And male bonobos (chimpanzee look-alikes which live south of the Congo River) are much less aggressive than their northern cousins. So much so that they do not kill one another during turf spats. As a matter of fact, they often turn aggressive encounters into sexual situations, though that in itself is perhaps a good reason not to trespass through their territory.

If humans were to ever find themselves at war with apes, chimpanzees would most definitely be the front-line soldiers.[5]

5 The Dark Nature of the Beast

Chimpanzee group aggression against alpha male (UPDATED)

“They’re hideous creatures.”—Albina (female mutant, Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

As intelligent, social, and frolicsome as they generally can be, it is an enigma of chimpanzee nature that they can also turn on a dime into horrible killing machines—with little regard toward previous relationships. Alpha males and elders carry a lot of weight in chimp communities, giving directives and passing down knowledge to the other males of the group. But let them grow unpopular, and they risk being ostracized, beaten, and even brutally murdered. One of the memories from the Gombe Chimpanzee War that often woke Jane Goodall at night was that of Figan, a younger male, savagely beating an elderly, fallen Goliath, a prior alpha male that he had once revered.

Back in 2013, at the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project in Senegal, a former alpha male named Foudouko was murdered by the males over which he’d once presided. He had lived alone for many years after being ousted over internal politics, and when he returned for the sake of companionship, he had a lukewarm reception from the community. Early one morning, the team at the Project awakened to a cacophony of simian screaming and hooting, and they discovered that Foudouko had been beaten, murdered, and even cannibalized, especially by one older female who was going to town chowing down on him.

Previous owners of chimps as pets are usually the first to tell you don’t go that route. They start out as cute, cuddly companions that are fun to dress up as young boys or girls. They often appear on TV and in movies as precocious, little critters who comically outwit the silly humans they encounter. But a decade later, they’re full of raging hormones and violent outbursts, which usually means they’re kept under lock and key. Most people have heard of the chimp attack in Stamford, Connecticut, back in 2009, when a 13-year-old, 200-pound ape named Travis attacked a friend of its owner, tearing off most of her face, her jaw, and her hands. The police ended up shooting Travis dead as it tried to attack them, though surprisingly, the victim survived, and even though she received a face transplant, her hand transplants failed, and she remains blind. This was not an isolated incident by far!

Also, infanticide is a reality of life in chimpanzee communities, some more than others. Males sometimes kill newborns unrelated to them in order for the mothers to return to their menstrual cycle sooner, a reproduction strategy used to personally father more infants. This is probably why females ready to give birth generally disappear for weeks or months before returning to the community.

Violence also occurs among gorillas, but not to the degree it does in chimpanzee communities. Chimps take the cake when it comes to committing social atrocities. They seem to possess high intelligence, compassion, and reasoning, yet they are capable of the darkest, most sinister crimes imaginable against their own kind. Their transgressions even surpass those of that lustful and incorrigible naked ape called man.[6]

4 The Gift of Gab

How to Speak Chimpanzee | Extraordinary Animals | BBC Earth

“What the hell would I have to say to a gorilla?”—Brent (Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

As early as the 1930s, primatologists attempted to teach lab apes sign or symbolic languages, and their research certainly got a lot of hype in the press during the ’70s and ’80s. However, contemporary linguists look back upon the results of these projects and are not very impressed. The scientists involved in these projects claimed monumental results in the study of language development. Naysayers have since pointed out that the apes were merely performing “monkey see, monkey do,” and for a treat to boot! They feel that the apes’ negligible success at relating specific signs or symbols to words does not equal an involved understanding of syntax, grammar, or the structure of a sentence. Similarly, it’s been previously mentioned that chimps can be taught to count to 9 with recognition of the Arabic numerals, but that doesn’t mean you’d want them filing your taxes for you.

There was Koko, the extraordinary gorilla who could sign about 200 words, and Kanzi, the precocious bonobo who learned a symbolic language by watching his mother’s training as an infant. Still, neither one of them reached beyond the linguistic proficiency of a human toddler. And then there was good ol’ Nim Chimsky, a chimp who was ironically named after a cognitive scientist (Noam Chomsky) who would publicly discredit the study of primate communication. It seems Nim was somewhat of a con artist who figured out that if he signed various random words, throwing in the sign for “banana,” the researchers would assume he had formed a sentence of sorts asking for a banana and would reward him with one. Smart chimp, but that didn’t make him an English major. Nim frequently got testy and impatient as he grew older, showing displays of temper and sometimes injuring his keepers, up until they retired him to a ranch in Texas, where he met their hospitality by smashing to death the house poodle.

The fact of the matter is that apes communicate with each other in many different ways, other than relying on written or oral language. They “speak” to one another using sensory signals, a natural, primitive language that humans have, for the most part, lost. Visual clues are employed, such as gestures, stances, and facial expressions, to convey warnings of aggression. Interestingly, marmosets and tamarins (New World monkeys) of South America, lacking a wide range of facial movement, tend to instead turn about and display their backsides. Apes also use olfactory cues (aka B.O.) to represent themselves. They also find touching one another through shared grooming activities very calming and restorative. And while orangutans and gorillas are basically quiet, peaceful animals, angry chimps have no problem loudly hooting, screeching, and grunting their intentions to beat the crap out of you.

Probably the biggest difference between simian and human communication that the researchers of the ’70s didn’t consider is that we, as a species, keep a written history of our past and speculate upon the future, whereas apes live in the NOW! They think and express themselves in the absolute present, having no need for personal memoirs or bucket lists. With that being said, they actually communicate very well with one another. If ever an actual war broke out between apes and humans, it might be a more prudent survival tactic for us to better learn how THEY communicate and what they’re saying and planning, rather than teaching them to interpret OUR conversations, and thus our intentions.[7]

3 Chimps Entering the Stone Age

Monkeys and Apes Have Entered The Stone Age

“It was at this level I discovered cutting tools and arrowheads of quartz…”—Cornelius (Planet of the Apes)

There seems to be some contention in the scientific community whether or not chimpanzees have entered the Stone Age. They often crack nuts with rocks and, as mentioned above, also know how to hurl them at enemies. Furthermore, in the Ivory Coast, archaeologists have discovered evidence of stone hammers that would not only fit the hands of chimps but were also covered with residue from nuts they, not people, eat. These artifacts have been found in areas that predate human occupation by about 2,000 years and, thus, would have been passed down for about 200 generations in chimp years. This discovery is fascinating enough to make archaeologists reconsider the origins of stone tools in other parts of Africa, which have been attributed to early human populations.

But not all primatologists agree they’ve reached the Stone Age. An international team of researchers studying eleven chimps residing in both a Norway zoo and a Zambian sanctuary have determined that they are not capable of making sharp tools on their own, even when they have the incentive to do so and the resources to make them. They were given stone cores and hammers to flake and hone implements to penetrate containers with Plexiglas panes revealing food. The chimps could not figure out how to make these tools independently, though, in prior studies, they had some success after watching people do so. The fact that they seem unable to fashion stoneware to meet their needs other than just picking up a rock and smashing something (or someone) led the researchers to conclude that no, chimps have not entered their own simian Stone Age.

If ever we were to embark upon a declaration of war with apes, however, we should probably not take comfort in the fact that chimps seem clueless as to fashioning arrowheads or spears on their own. Perhaps we should remind ourselves instead, with bated breath, of the concept of Caesar…[8]

2 A Simian God?

“Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed.”—The Lawgiver (Planet of the Apes)

Do apes believe in God? Should we accept the notion that humans are the only creatures on Earth with spirituality? Until recently, that has been the empirical belief of both religious and secular communities and perhaps the main division that separates mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. But in recent times, chimpanzees have been seen performing ritualistic behaviors which indicate a prototypical form of religion. And where there are religious rituals, there is a belief in a god, or perhaps a creator or a prophet—at least someone who is watching from above.

In the past few years, African chimpanzees have been seen building stone temples and performing ritual dances during rainstorms that seem to have no other purpose than, perhaps, to please the gods. These activities are similar to many rituals performed by ancient human civilizations at spiritual ceremonies as we sought, and still do seek, answers for the chaotic nature of the world around us. These activities among early man were truly the beginning of formalized religion, and there’s really no reason the think differently of those similar rituals performed today by chimps.

So, what’s the big idea? There have been more wars fought in the history of mankind inspired by the supposed word of God than any other, with such quasi-political campaigns (aka holy wars) as the Crusades, the Seven Years’ War, and the Buddhist Uprising, among many others. Even terrorist activity can be often attributed to divine inspiration. If chimps continue on their own spiritual quest, the way humans did hundreds of thousands of years ago, the last thing we might want them to ritualize, perhaps, is a war dance inspired by a Lawgiver against us…[9]

1 Are We Creating the Forbidden Zone?

SAVING CHIMPS: Tacugama Chimpanzee Conservation

“The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it…ages ago.”—Dr. Zaius (Planet of the Apes)

According to climate experts, 2021 was the hottest year since 2015, even with La Niña bringing cold water to the Pacific. And extreme weather is on the rise globally. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, scientific analysis shows that the increasingly volatile temperatures and storm systems plaguing our world would be impossible without taking into account the contribution of humans. Global deforestation is also on the rise, with a 33% increase in the Amazon between January and October of 2021, adding up to an alarming 2.4 million acres of rainforest being decimated. And over in Africa, a shocking 65% of fertile land has been degraded, much of which has turned from arable acreage to desertland.

Despite global initiatives to stem deforestation, the numbers grow each year, and the general consensus is that time is running out. As global warming increases and species once geographically distant consistently compete for the same space, the risk of future pandemics increases. A very dark irony is that as economic recovery plans for COVID-19, and conceivably for future plagues such as dengue fever, malaria, and cholera, invest in fossil fuel industries, we increase the potential for global warming, thus increasing the risk for further pandemics. At this point, the two environmental quagmires are beginning to bounce off one another, and the outcome of such a global sparring match is rather bleak.

Will this be the turning point that tips the scale in Africa and forms an alliance of apes, chiefly chimpanzees, that rise up against the human populations encroaching upon their feeding grounds? We’ve already seen that it has started in smaller numbers around the perimeters of wildlife preserves, where the boundaries of growing farmland meet the shrinking expanses of the rainforest. Will hordes of screeching, murderous apes form armies that slaughter not only random individuals but entire plantations, or even cities, of people?

Is it possible that one revolutionary ape might someday learn to fashion blades from stone—primitive weapons that can nonetheless maim and murder and teach the skill to others, who will then further teach others and others and so on? And when we are forced to fight back, will our guns and ammo keep us safe, or will they fall into the hands of our simian enemies, only to be scrutinized, mastered, and distributed to the rest—a whole battalion of apes lashing out to regain their territory and their lush, natural orchards forever lost?[10]

Time, which is running out, will only tell.

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen