Tabloid Stars Of The Animal Kingdom

There aren’t many things in the world that give me the same kind of pleasure as when an animal makes the news for behaving like a human.

In 2010 a bunch of stray dogs figured out how to utilise Moscow’s complex subway system and I haven’t forgotten that story in five years. The dogs would board the train, ride it like any other commuter until they got to the city centre, and alight. After a day spent foraging for scraps and presumably getting up to all manner of naughty slapstick hijinks, the renegade Ruskies would ride the train back to wherever it was they came from.

A little over a month ago, in a similar part of the world, a fox in Chernobyl became the animal kingdom’s MVP when it built a five-decker sandwich out of bread and a selection of cold meats.

And then there’s the collective media’s magnum opus: a story about a pig that went HAM on some cans in a Western Australian campground late last year. Campers awoke to the sound of the greedy little hog tearing into their tinnies—about three six-pack’s worth over the course of the night, apparently—before staggering away to fossick through some trash, start a fight with a cow and eventually pass out under a tree.

Now, in western Africa, a troupe of drunken monkeys has been caught going apeshit on alcoholic tree sap.

In a study published yesterday, scientists reported video evidence of a bunch of chimpanzees raiding a collection of containers that local communities had erected to harvest the sweet sap of the raffia palms. Allegedly, the sap tastes like cider—which is probably why the cheeky chimps drank about a litre of the stuff each time. One particular instance showed a seemingly inebriated male swinging through the trees for a full hour whilst his more sensible drinking companions retired to their beds.

Stories like this are brilliant for a few reasons. Firstly, because it resurrects academic diamonds like the ‘drunken monkey hypothesis’: the theory that natural selection would have favoured apes that drank booze because it heightened their appetite for fruit and increased their intake of calories. Apparently a genetic mutation in ancient apes enabled them, and us, to break down ethanol far more effectively—in turn making the acts of sipping, swigging and shotting what is effectively a poison drastically less dangerous. On this view we more or less evolved from alcoholic ancestors, whilst the abstinent returned to the dust.

More importantly than this, though, it reinforces the sense of commonality and camaraderie that we share with other living things. We’re all in this together, just trying to get by and get off—and the beasts of the field and forest love drinking piss and eating fatty foods just as much as the next guy. Maybe more, if the quantities mentioned in the news articles are anything to go by: I know many a supposedly ‘superior’ human that couldn’t get through a five-decker sandwich or three six-packs of beer without promptly vomiting it all over themselves.

And as much as these kind of occurrences in the natural world might seem to limelight the idea of animals behaving like humans, it also, on the other hand, speaks loudly to the bestial habits, drives and passions of the common ‘civilised’ man. You and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals, after all.

Charles Darwin would be wet-dreaming in his grave: for if the symmetry between the shitfaced, tree-swinging apes of west Africa and any number of my mates on the weekend isn’t Darwinian theory in action, then I don’t know what is. Regardless: in the world of the slaughterhouse, the battery farm and the cosmetics testing lab, it’s almost comforting to believe that some form of Eden still stands—where man, monkey and pig alike can get arseholed on free booze, whilst the crack fox is in the corner making a five-decker sub.
Words by Gavin Butler.


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