My visit to the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Great Britain was not supposed to last long but Ambam the male gorilla was not being cooperative.
The 21-year-old knuckle-walking primate had been teasing members of the National Academies of Science (NAS) by standing erect and walking like a human until researchers turned a camera on him. Then, he stubbornly went back to trotting on all fours.
“We can’t have this,” said one of the top researchers who was part of the Great Ape Locomotion Project, funded to study if humans evolved from gorillas or an ape predecessor that walked upright. “He must be recorded using human bipedalism.”
That’s when they sent for me. NAS was aware of my work with Dian Fossey. The ill-fated researcher lived among the species but only after I cured her of a terrible fear of the primates due to a traumatic experience watching the move Mighty Joe Young when she was a child.
Ambam suspected I was on to him the moment I stepped onto his territory. Like all Western-lowland gorillas, he slapped his own forehead, spit into his palms, growled and whistled a verse from Ain’t Misbehavin’.
I stood twenty feet from him, smiling. The NAS crew was poised to start recording their videos the moment I succeeded. But I failed. Four visits later, Ambam was overconfident and I brought out my secret weapon.
I smiled at him and snapped my fingers. Suddenly, hidden speakers came alive with a heavy four-four beat of a band and from behind me walked the iconic singer Frankie Valli, who came right in on the 17th beat, wailing, “Walk like a man, talk like a man, walk like a man my son …”
Ambam stood up tall and mouthed the lyrics along with Frankie.
“No woman’s worth crawling on the Earth, so walk like a man my son.”
After decades of research, the video recorded a gorilla walking upright, not just like a human, but like one of the Jersey Boys.
“It is now clear,” said a researcher, “that human bipedalism evolved from terrestrial primates, not an arboreal ape ancestor.”
I smiled, knowing this all along, as Frankie and Ambam strutted around the park singing a duet to Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.