Wednesday, January 01, 2003

WHO IS CLOSEST HUMAN RELATION: CHIMPANZEE OR ORANGUTAN?

No monkey business
Science museum director wants to inspire public
By TOM BUCKHAM

While touring the Buffalo Museum of Science as a candidate for the new position of director of science and collections, John Grehan spotted three splendid artifacts in the musty recesses of an upper floor - the stuffed carcasses of a chimpanzee, a gorilla and an orangutan.

Now that he is on the job, Grehan has in mind a future exhibit featuring the simian threesome, concerning the debate over which species is most closely related to man....

One tool will be using the collections to fuel the dialogue between science and the public. For example, that potential "missing link" exhibit featuring chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan.

"The popular press has gotten behind one school of thought - that the chimp is our closest relative," Grehan said, "but there is another view out there - a legitimate scientific view - that it's the orangutan."...

In the debate over man's closest ancestor, this scientist's money is on the orangutan.

"It makes a lot of sense biologically," he said. "Orangutans are just like us in many respects. They mate at anytime of year, and like us, they have beards. Chimps and gorillas, on the other hand, mate only when the female is in season. And they're knuckle-walkers. Then again, when you look at the genetics, chimps are more like us."

There would be an added twist: The museum's stuffed chimp is none other than Eddie, who for decades before his demise both regaled and revolted Buffalo Zoo visitors with his antics.

"Eddie the Chimp would have a new lease on life - in the middle of a controversy," Grehan said. "That's a familiar role for him."