Villarosa, Dea Marie Isabel A.
A Social Life
One of the most surprising things I learned (and, oddly enough, still remember) from my Bio 1 class is that the human race actually shares 99 percent of its DNA with chimpanzees.
The first time I heard that, the facts didn’t add up because while the class explained that they were the closest anthropoid to humans in the phylogenetic tree, the fact that humans are so distinct, at least physically, from chimpanzees made me doubt that the two species would have that much in common.
But after seeing the documentary The Life of Mammals, I was able to see that apart from the similar stance and anatomy and linguistic capabilities, the similarities between humans and their furry friends actually go down deep into their lifestyle, specifically in terms of socializing and in learning.
In the first part of the documentary, aptly titled Social Climbers, the relationships of monkeys were explored. I was surprised to see just how political and nepotistic monkeys could be. Who knew? Of course, it’s common knowledge (thank you, Lion King) that animal groups have certain alpha males and strong senses of kinship, but after watching the documentary, I was amazed at the complexity of relationships in the monkey world. In one example, they actually formed an alliance to defend themselves against predators, and they structured it such that there would be little rivalry in terms of resources, especially food. Another thing that shocked me (kind of) was the caste system in macaque relationships: despite the lack of language, other forms of non-verbal communication were enough to prove dominance, and this would affect everything from the right to eat one’s harvest to the opportunity to mate — props to the documentary team for how it portrayed the dramatic scene of having to mate in secret.
The second part was called Food for Thought. In it, we basically saw how monkeys had the capacity to learn. The word ‘food’ referred to how monkeys adapted their skills, such as nut cracking through the use of tools, in order to maximize the food sources available. It also integrated the importance of the first part, in that there was also a social dimension when it came to resource sharing. In particular, it showed the hunting process that was carefully calculated, and they showed how the spoils could actually have cultural significance, as food was used as a tool for symbolic interaction amongst allies and families. This part of the film also showed how monkeys evolved to become bipedal creatures in order to better adapt to change, much like the humans of today.
Perhaps the best insight was the one I realized about brain size: according to the film, it varies proportionally with regards to how many individuals are interacted with. I found it touching, as it really proves how much individuals — monkey or human or otherwise — need one another in order to survive. Of course, that means that we humans, with our big brains, have a strong capacity not just to think and solve problems, but to interact, so that's what we should do in order to maximize our abilities as a species.
In conclusion, life on Earth shares so much in common — from how microscopic neurons apparently look like a galaxy, to this newfound realization about monkeys and humans. Again, we have big brains. So from this, I believe that a great way to use it would be to learn about the natural world, and more importantly, to figure out the best way to take care of it.
Quilang, J.P. (2012). Systematics and the Diversity of Life. Personal collection of J.P. Quilang, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.
More than Birds
Well, the first thing I would say from our activity on birdwatching with Dr. Benjamin Vallejo would be that birdwatching is no joke. At all. Swear.
It’s been offered as a Physical Education course in UP, and when I first saw it in the course catalogue, I had no doubts about the E, but the P? I wasn’t so sure.
Of course, now I know that it is anything but chill — not just because of the random walk-turned-almost-run early in the morning, but because beyond looking at birds, you get to put yourself in the shoes of an ornithologist, as you engage yourself physically and mentally in taking note of the different species of birds, as well as of their characteristics and activities as well.
To begin with, I never realized that there were so many species of birds in the campus alone. Prior to that day, I’ve already seen around 3 or 4 non-Maya birds around UP, but when Dr. Vallejo said that there were more than 50 different species, I was amazed at how this urban landscape could house such a diverse range of birds. It also made me happy to know that despite all the modernization and construction going on in the vicinity, the birds still get to have a sanctuary, and we humans conveniently enjoy these lovely sights — provided we get up before 8 AM.
This situation is not without its threats, though. We learned from the lecture how noise scares the birds away, and has happened, due to the construction of the buildings in the Science Complex, before which the land was presumably undeveloped — a perfect habitat for birds. And since we have to continuously improve the university’s facilities, the possibility of a dwindling number of bird species in the campus is looming above our heads, and I should never hope for the day to come when all we see are Maya birds, or none at all.
Personally, I’m disheartened that this kind of information about our university isn’t widely known. Thankfully, the Bagwis photo exhibit was put up, and people who saw it were able to appreciate the beauty of the wildlife found within our borders. However, I still think that environmental concerns around UP should be much higher up on our agenda, not just for the administration or for student leaders, but for every person that gets so caught up in his or her own thing that the effect on the bigger picture is forgotten.
The key, then, is vigilance — there are always tradeoffs that come with progress, and we must decide whether giving up something that may not always be regained is worth it.