Ambam: An extraordinary gorilla, but that is all.

Many people have seen Ambam the gorilla walking upright (if not, click here), and many have been suitably impressed by this unusual (but not the first ever) occurence.

Some, however, have taken this one step further and claimed that Ambam could be the missing link between man and beast.

[This is not an argument for or against evolution, but it is an argument against Ambam being any sort of link greater than that of the normal Gorilla.]

High school genetics teaches us that learned behaviour cannot be transferred to the next generation by means of DNA.

If you cut off your toe, that does not mean that your children will be born missing a toe. If you learn to speak Mandarin, that does not mean that your children will have the innate ability to speak Mandarin once they manage to talk.

The idea that acquired characteristics can be passed on to the next generation is called Lamarckism and despite numerous attempts to prove its credibility, the theory is still bunk.

For interest’s sake, one such attempt is that blacksmith’s have well-developed muscles of the forearm and when their sons mature, they do too,”therefore avquired characteristics can be inherited.” This attempt misses two vital points, being that

  1. the son of an artisan, in those times, was likely to follow or at the very least try his hand at his father’s trade
  2. the blacksmith would not have chosen his trade if he had not already had some physical signs of being able to do the job well, such as the predisposition to being strong and bulky. This predisposition is genetic and therefore can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Moving along swiftly, children of famous musicians tend to share the musical talent not because singing/playing piano is in their genes, but because they share the genetic predisposition of their parents to be right-brain predominant, creative and tuned to rhythm and pitch.

Ambam the gorilla lived with a human couple for the second year of his life. He learned to eat with a knife and fork, to switch on the television and to balance on his hind legs. Other gorillas don’t have these abilities simply because they don’t live with humans and are not exposed to these kinds of behaviours.

Primates are known to be able to imitate other primates, especially humans. Evolution is a more lengthy process of adaptation, taking place over several generations.

The fact that Ambam has learned to walk upright does not make him the link between man and beast anymore than a parrot squawking “hallo” is the link between man and bird.


  1. Jerre Levy says:

    Ambam’s father also walked upright, but was not raised by human parents. The assumption that any variation from the norm is necessarily learned behavior, rather than a reflection of genetic variance, is absurd. The question of why Ambam’s walks upright is a scientific one that requires scientific investigation to answer. It cannot be answered by a mere belief not based on scientific evidence. In a human family of 5 hand-walkers, who have never walked upright (see, the behavior is not learned, but reflects a rare form of cerebellar ataxia due to genetic variation in the human population.

  2. Thank you for stopping by. I had heard of the quadrupedal family before and I agree that deviation from the norm is often more than merely a matter of learned behaviour. I was however pointing out that the behaviour is not an indication of some kind of “missing link” as some of my peers actually suggested. Unless of course scientifically determined. It may be simply behavioural, but by the sounds of it there is some genetic component to this behaviour in Ambam’s family members. You are clearly a lot more knowledgable on the matter than I am and I appreciate (and enjoy) your input here.

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