The Late Discovery of the Gorilla

I read today that gorillas weren’t known to people in the West until 1847 when Thomas Staughton Savage described the gorilla from skeletons he obtained. And it wasn’t until later, in 1861 that Paul du Chaillu sent back specimens to England, and the general public became aware of them.

I hadn’t realized that gorillas were discovered in the West so recently. So many fundamental, basic things about the world were first understood in the 1800s. Scientifically it was a time of much greater change than any time before or since.

Chimpanzees and orangutans were sent to Europe in the 17th century. It sounds crazy, but the relationship of humans/chimps/gorillas (human-chimp closest, gorillas more distantly related) wasn’t definitively established until molecular biology techniques were applied in the 1970s! I wonder what Africans thought about chimps and gorillas, and their relationship? I think their ranges overlap in West Africa.

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