Ignorance is Sis

 

Enlightenment is futile – you will be assimilated.

Hollywood is making us stupid. I realized this while watching The Legend of Tarzan, a fun movie, if you’re into excessive CGI animals, but one that left me gaping at the creator’s blatant ignorance about Africa, wild animals, and local culture. That annoys me. I mean, sis[1].

Let’s start with the bit that bugs me the most: the apes.

Going by geography, these are Western Lowland Gorillas. Of course, the apes in the original book by Edgar Rice Burroughs were never identified as gorillas, but rather a fictional species called the Mangani who resembled a cross between a gorilla and a chimpanzee. If Burroughs had based the Mangani on a real primate, it would have been the recently discovered Bili ape which more closely fits his description than a gorilla (who appeared as a separate species in the books). But the ones in the movie definitely look like Western Lowland gorillas. So, what’s the problem?

First of all, the aggressive nature of the gorillas. In the movie, gorillas kill Tarzan’s father unprovoked, attempt to beat Jane to death (Tarzan saves her), and generally display a ‘look-at-me-and-die’ attitude towards humans. Don’t get me wrong, humans have a history of being pretty awful towards gorillas and deserve all the hostility those primates can dish out, however, that is just not how dey roll. Studies of wild gorillas, including those of primatologist Dian Fossey (murdered by a human, not a gorilla), show that they are hardly ever violent. Most aggression is directed at other gorillas, such as when a male approaches a group of females and youngsters controlled by a dominant male silverback. Even then, the dominant male will try to drive the stranger off by grunting and pounding his chest. Only if that fails will he attack.

The terrifying Western lowland gorilla                    Photo Credit: www.worldwildlife.org

Gorillas attacking humans is so rare that there are hardly any statistics available. A 2012 review of human-wildlife conflicts cites only three incidences of gorilla attacks before 2000. The few anecdotal instances that have been circulated recount that the gorilla was attacked or provoked by the human (pretty silly of the human involved, as gorillas are between six to fifteen times stronger, have finger tips so tough they can rip through human skin, and are very, very fast). In fact, gorillas tend to stay far away from humans and inhabited areas, which is completely understandable, given how humans are the worst. The first European to ever report seeing mountain gorillas (in 1902) shot two of them. You know, because that’s what humans do when they discover something new and unique. Over the next two decades, 43 more gorillas were killed or captured.

At this point I shall go off on a tangent about the tragic death of Harambe the Western Lowland Gorilla. Let’s play a game: Who would you shoot?

May 2016. Harambe, the 17-year-old male silverback frolics happily in his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Suddenly, a vicious, snot-faced boy-child of 3 years deliberately plummets over the barrier and into the moat surrounding Harambe’s habitat. Rightly fearing for their lives, the two female gorillas sharing the enclosure retreat inside at the signal of zoo officials. Harambe, the protector of the group, investigates the trespasser as is his duty. He drags the boy through the water a few times to ensure he is not harbouring any dangerous germs. The onlookers, unaware of Harambe’s concern for hygiene, begin to shout and scream, causing the poor male to become agitated and disoriented. He begins a threat display in an effort to scare off the obviously dangerous invaders. Noticing that the boy is becoming soggy, he carries him up a ladder and out of the moat, onto dry land. Zoo officials, realizing that a tranquilizer dart will not work fast enough to prevent damage to the boy and may even aggravate Harambe into attacking, choose to shoot him dead.

 

Harambe bathes a dirty child. 

Photo Credit: tanews.org.tw

Was this the right choice? Was the greater threat removed? I put to you the following facts:

Before the incident with Harambe, there were two cases of children getting into gorilla enclosures. Both were unharmed. In one case, the gorilla actually protected the intruder.

Gorillas are hunted illegally for their skins and meat, and slaughtered by guerrillas (ha ha!) and soldiers, critically threatening their population of approximately 100, 000.

 

In the USA alone, there are over 320 million people, of whom more than 150 million are males.

Approximately 15, 000 or more murders occur yearly.

Percentage of murderers that are men: 90%

There are an estimated 300, 000 rapes.

Percentage of rapists that are men: 98%

Percentage of men that are rapists: 15% (35% would try if they knew they would get away with it)

Percentage of people in the US who own guns: 88%

Number of people killed by guns in the US per year: over 13, 000

Number of mass shootings in the US in 2017: 307

Percentage of mass shootings committed by men: 98%

 

Percentage of gorillas responsible for murders, rape, or shootings: 0%

 

Statistically speaking, human males pose a far greater threat to life in the US than gorillas do.

Statistically speaking, human males pose a far greater threat to life in the US than gorillas do. Click To Tweet

But back to Tarzan and fake Africa.

Tarzan comes upon a pride of lions with a kill and lovingly nuzzles them in greeting.

Hold the phone. Tarzan is friends with lions? Wait a minute. Each year, lions attack 550-700 humans and kill around 250. And Tarzan is buddies with gorillas. Lions prey on gorillas. Tarzan can mimic other creatures but at what point did he develop diplomatic immunity from all predators? Besides which, Tarzan killed a lion in the original books. At least the movie showed the lions in their natural habitat – the savannah – rather than in the jungle. Gorillas seldom, if ever, venture out of the jungle, but if they did, the lions would get them. Tarzan should not be fraternizing with these cats.

 

My next peeve: Tarzan swings on vines through the tree tops. It’s true that there are vines in the Congolese jungle. They’re called lianas. They can be over 30cm thick, so definitely big enough to support the weight of a man and even a gorilla. Maybe not at the same time.

But there’s one thing about lianas you should know. Like most plants, they have roots. Which grow in the ground. The vines might be wound around branches in the trees above, but they certainly don’t dangle free at the bottom. You could maybe sway back and forth a bit, but you wouldn’t be able to reach another tree, let alone fly above a fast-moving train. More than likely, the minute you hang on one, it will fall on you, bringing a delightful selection of creepy crawlies along with it.

Even if there were vines that magically grew out of trees, you probably wouldn’t get too far with one, the jungle being more densely vegetated than the fans at a Justin Bieber concert.

The Jungle Highway – Liana vines

Photo Credit: ignatiansolidarity.net

It should be noted that Burroughs never mentioned vines as a means of transportation. He described Tarzan’s method of traipsing through the jungle as the one used by chimps and other primates – swinging and jumping from branch to branch. Not that humans are physically capable of doing this. But he is a kind of superhero after all, so we have to allow some poetic license.

Which is why I can tolerate Tarzan running with a herd of Wildebeest. What I can’t tolerate, is the fact that these same wild beasties are perfectly happy to be shepherded by a gorilla and some random guys, and make no attempt to trample our muscled hero or anyone classified as ‘good’, but run indiscriminately into buildings, baddies, and bridge bases. Hmmm.

Wildebeest – respond well to direction

Photo Credit: barcroftmedia.com

Then there is the vanquishing of the evil villain. Now don’t get me wrong, Captain Leon Rom did exist and he really was a consummate jerk. He might not have had quite as much authority as he does in the film, but he was responsible for enslavement and mutilation of the Congolese, as well as contributing liberally to the massacring of 10 million Congolese during King Leopold’s regime. He was renowned for his brutality, earning himself the title, ‘the Butcher of Congo’. He is reported to have used a gallows and the severed heads of those he executed as garden ornaments. Not a nice man.

But that’s not my beef. The process of his demise is. Tarzan summons crocodiles to attack Rom but escapes unscathed. Nile crocodiles attack between 275 and 745 people per year. About 63% of these attacks are fatal. The odds are really odd for Tarzan – he gets beaten to a pulp by gorillas at least twice (generally passive, inoffensive creatures), but manages to remain buddies with lions and crocs (collectively responsible for up to a thousand deaths per year, largely unprovoked).

 

Finally, we are rewarded with a shot of the relieved Congolese tribesman who have been freed of the shackles of Belgian tyranny, happily waving their Zulu shields in the air.

Wait, what?

Yes. Zulu shields. The shields of a people who lived roughly 4000 km southeast of Boma, where the final scene takes place.

Sigh.

 

Photo Credit: 1stdibs.com, africancraftsmarket.com

To summarize:

Who knows less about Africa than a Mariana Trench snailfish? Hollywood.

Who would win in a fight between a gorilla and a human? The gorilla.

Who is more likely to start the fight? The human.

Who is more likely to kill you sooner than look at you? The human.

When faced with the choice between confronting a gorilla or Leon Rom, who should you pick? Definitely the gorilla. 

 

When faced with the choice between confronting a gorilla or Leon Rom, who should you pick? Definitely the gorilla. Click To Tweet

 

[1] Sis  /sɪs,səs/

Exclamation SOUTH AFRICAN informal

exclamation: sis

used to express disappointment, disgust, or contempt.

“sis—the floor is dirty!”



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4 Comments

  1. Do I laugh (at Hollywood) or cry (at horrible humans)? … If you want some more stories of how humans have misused animals, look up the story of Laika, the first dog in space. I read about it yesterday. Been feeling sick for two days as a result. 🙁

  2. It’s a tough one, rfp793. Humans have done (and continue to do) some pretty awful stuff (to animals and other humans). Here at survivorbunny.com we try to laugh at all the ridiculousness, otherwise we’d just cry all the time. Thanks for sharing Laika’s story.

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