It is recognised now that we are, as humans, genetically closer to chimpanzees than
gorillas and so it follows from this that the pioneering savannah ape must have been
a chimpanzee rather than a gorilla. However, the process of reversion (described
elsewhere) can confuse direct genome comparisons. In actual fact, the gorilla could
have been the original savannah pioneer. This is because gorillas are likely to be
derived from chimpanzees anyway (having evolved for mountain dwelling - where it
is much cooler and where the forests are less dense). Many of the derived characteristics
of gorilla genetics, however, could have been abandoned in a process of reversion
- with the result that many gene sequences could return to a pattern more in common
with chimpanzees. This could have occurred at a much later stage of the savannah
ape’s evolution, when they were defending themselves with crude weapons - and great
size and brute strength were no longer necessary attributes - a more gracile form
New pioneers to savannah/scrub-land would perhaps have the following food resources.
I have selected these - bearing in mind the eating habits of gorilla and chimpanzees
and their capabilities of procurement. These animals are considered to be omnivorous
but their diet majors on leaves, flowers, fruit and seed. They do eat a variety of
insects and occasionally kill monkeys (mainly colobus) and infrequently kill and
eat their own kind.
Leaves and seed pods of Acacia species and the gums they exude from their bark would
probably provide the staple of pioneering apes. Insects such as termites are widely
available and as many a five million insects can be found in one termite mound. Mounds
can be easily broken away by hand, stone or stick and it is possible that this method
of nest damage was within their capabilities of these apes. Constant digging into
termite mounds with crude implements would increase motor skills and technical know-how
in ‘tool’ choice. Improved techniques would be copied by younger generations and
Locusts are often present in vast numbers and could provide some nutrition. There
are many other types of insects too, including beetles, crickets and bugs.
Turn over any stone in this part of Africa and you will find a host of other creatures
too - including scorpions, worms, and spiders. There are also some reptiles which
are easy to catch including lizards, chameleons, tortoises, and small crocodiles
- which live near lakes and rivers. Bird’s eggs like those from the many large species
which nest near the African lakes would also provide the occasional treat.
Coloration and Skin Covering
If we consider these pioneering species of the savannah lands were like mountain
gorillas - one of the biggest problems in a new environs would be associated with
the thickness of their coat - ideal for cool nights on the mountain slopes - but
inappropriate for the harsh sun-soaked savannah. The black coloration not only absorbs
heat radiation but also makes them conspicuous in the new landscape.
There would be natural selection for a sparser hair covering throughout the body
- except for the head region where it would serve as protection against ultraviolet
light damaging the brain. Thick hair on the head would act like a tropical pith helmet
protecting both the brain and brain stem. Those individuals with thin hair on their
heads would no doubt suffer the deleterious effects of sunstroke.
I believe this is how we arrived at our own head hair characteristics with regards
to density and growth pattern. It is likely the hair would have been without any
crinkle as I believe the African type crinkling is a modern derivation - for reasons
I will discuss in another section.
There would be natural selection for cryptic coloration - that is a coloration which
blend more effectively with the savannah land back-drop. Those that were paler or
more cryptic would be more successful in concealing themselves from predators. In
many parts of East Africa, river beds and erosion gullies, termite mounds and ‘pathways’
are often of a red earth colour. The river beds are areas where early savannah apes
would have needed to collect water and would have been most vulnerable to predator
attack. Other areas of East Africa, commonly, have the grey soil type known as ‘black
cotton’. So coloration could have been either reddish brown or grey in relation to
the two soil types. Another possibility could have been cryptic coloration in relation
to the savannah vegetation itself and this could have been the flecked gold and grey
of the schemes adopted by vervet monkeys, baboons and mandrills.
The single tone grey was perhaps the most likely colour scheme to be adopted by early
savannah apes as it is the one commonly used by several other creatures which frequent
the same areas. These are the wart hogs, elephants, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that all these animals, too, have sparse hair coverings
on their bodies.