On the 26th of April, Stemettes spoke to Dr Zanna Clay- a primatologist and fellow at The Linnean Society, to discuss her work, how she got there, what it involves, and the threats posed to great apes today.

When Dr Zanna was young, she knew she wanted to pursue a career centred on animals, but she didn’t quite know the specifics. At university, she studied zoology and psychology which grew her love for animals, however, to decide on a specific career she volunteered all across the world with animals including meerkats and lemurs. This gave her the clarity she needed and she went on to be a PhD student in Bonobo communication.

She says the key to a good career is to “be passionate about what you do and find experience where you can“.

Many people believe that monkeys and great apes are the same. However, amongst their differences is the fact that there are approximately 300 species of monkey and only 5 types of great ape. On top of this, the great apes have much bigger brains than monkeys, as well as the addition of tails for monkeys. These great apes include gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans.

A special link can be found between humans and other great apes due to our evolutionary story. Around 15 million years ago we shared an ancestor with gorillas and orangutans and today, our closest ancestors are bonobos and chimps. Even though we separated 7 million years ago, we will always have a close and special relationship with these animals.

It is known that the great apes are exceptionally intelligent. For example, they have excellent communication, tool use, and problem-solving skills. Despite this, all of the great apes are faced by threats. Orangutans are threatened by deforestation due to palm oil usage, chimps and bonobos are threatened by the illegal pet trade, and gorillas are threatened by poaching, but the more we know, the more we can do to help. That’s what makes jobs such as Dr Zanna Grays so important.

This piece is a summary of the Outbox 2020 session run by The Linnean Society. You can find out more about The Linnean Society here.

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