When humans evolved, and we started inventing agriculture, migrating around the globe, and visiting the moon, our closest relatives, the chimpanzees have remained in the trees where they eat fruit and hunt monkeys.
Modern chimps have been around longer than modern humans. Chips have been around for a little less than one million years, and Homo sapiens, aka people, have been around for about 300,000 years, based on the most recent estimates. Humans and chimps have been on separate evolutionary paths for millions of years. If we are going to look at chimps as our cousins, our last common ancestor is like a great, great-grandmother with just two living descendants. One common question is, why did one go on to accomplish so much, while the other remained the same? Why haven’t all primates evolved into humans?
According to Briana Pobiner, a paleoanthropologist at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., primates didn’t evolve to humans because they are just fine the way they are. All of the living primates today, including mountain gorillas in Uganda, the lemurs in Madagascar, and the howler monkeys in the Americas have all proven that they can thrive in their natural habitat.
Evolution Isn’t a Progression
According to Lynne Isbell, a professor of anthropology at the University of Davis, evolution isn’t a progression. It is more about how well organisms can fit into their current environment. According to many scientists, humans aren’t the more evolved species, and they haven’t won the “evolutionary game.” Humans are very adaptable and can manipulate different environments to meet our needs. However, this ability isn’t enough to technically put humans at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Lynne uses ants as an example of her theory. She says that ants are just as successful or more successful than humans are. She believes this because there are so many more ants in the world than humans, and they are well-adapted to their way of life.
No Fossil Records
We don’t have a complete fossil record for humans or chimps. Scientists have combined fossil evidence with genetic and behavioral cues from living primates to learn more about the now-extinct species which we descended from. According to Lynne, we don’t have the remains from this animal, and if we did, we might not be able to place it with a direct lineage to humans. According to many scientists, the creature looked more like a chimpanzee than a human. They believe that this ancestor pent more time in the forest canopy rather than traveling on the ground.
It is believed that our earliest ancestors have a lot in common with chimpanzees, and have evolved over time. According to Lynne, it was likely three million years ago that our ancestors’ legs began to grow longer, and the big toe turned forward. This is what made it possible for them to be full-time walkers.
Scientists believe that the environment and habit had a lot to do with the first behavioral change. For them to change their method of travel, they would have had to have migrated to areas where there weren’t close canopies in the trees. This required them to walk more, which caused the change in their legs and toes. In areas where the trees were more spread out, these ancestors had to find new ways to get around.
The modern chimps have remained the same for thousands of years because there is now no reason for them to evolve any further. They are able to get around on foot, they are able to find the food that they need, and they are able to reproduce easily. Now that they are entirely able to take care of themselves, there is no need for them to change.
What Would Cause a Change?
Chimpanzees aren’t going to change any time soon because they are fine the way they are. The only thing that would cause further evolution is if the chimp’s habitat is put in danger. If we destroy their habitat and the way that they live, they would need to evolve a bit in order to survive.
Even if there is an issue with the chimp’s habitat, we won’t need to worry about them taking over the world the way they did in Planet of the Apes. If that film, the apes were given medication to make them intelligent and able to take over. If the chimps were someday able to evolve, it would be in very minor ways so that they can continue to thrive in their current environment. As long as the chimps are able to thrive and reproduce, they aren’t going to evolve any further. They have done what they need to do, and they are living well. This will likely be as far as they will ever develop.