Facts on Apes for Kids

Some varieties of apes, such as gorillas, can grow to reach 5 1/2 feet tall and weigh as much as 400 pounds. That's a lot of primate to love. There are, however, many characteristics of apes that endear them to humans. Popular culture, through movies, almost exclusively portrays apes as vulnerable and misunderstood creatures who want only to be left alone to live in eerily-human fashion.

Types of Apes

Apes are primates, just like humans. This means, in part, that they can grasp objects with their hands and feet. According to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, types of primates include: Great apes, such as gorillas; lesser apes -- gibbons and siamangs -- monkeys, which include baboons and tamarins; and prosimians such as lemurs and lorises. Some surprising traits that apes have in common with humans include the ability to think and solve problems and to use their sense of vision over their sense of smell. Apes can also construct simple tools and engage in complex social interactions.

Apes in the Movies

M.C. Cooper's and Ernest B Schoedsack's 1933 film "King Kong" paved the way for apes in the movies. Kong was terrifying, yet lovable, as he was in the both 1976 and 2005 remakes that came later. Always the ladies' man, animatronic and computer-generated versions of Kong have played opposite the likes of Hollywood beauties, Fay Wray, Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts. Other ape movies that followed swiftly on the heels of Kong include:

  • the six "Planet of the Apes" movies
  • 1988's "Gorillas in the Mist," based on the life of primatologist Dian Fossey;
  • Frank Marshall's "Congo," based on the novel by "Jurassic Park" author
  • Michael Crichton 5

Famous Apes

In 1961, the first ape went into space. His name was Ham, and he went to prove that it was possible to perform tasks in a space ship while it was in orbit. Ham proved the theory successfully in a little under seven minutes before he splashed back down to Earth. He survived the trip just fine. Koko was another famous ape who understood about 2,000 words from the English language. According to United Academics, she was able to sign around 1,000 of them, using American Sign Language. King of Pop, Michael Jackson, kept a chimpanzee named Bubbles as a pet for years. Bubbles toured with Jackson until the ape became too aggressive and he now lives in a Florida sanctuary.

Endangered Animals

According to National Geographic, at least 25 varieties of apes are currently endangered, meaning they are at a real risk of extinction. Some, such as the Cross River gorilla of Nigeria and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey of Vietnam, number in the low hundreds. Land development, fire, agriculture and illegal poaching are only a few of the threats that plague apes in the wild. Conservation efforts by groups such as the World Wildlife Federation assist the ape population by monitoring their numbers, teaching tourists and locals about apes, and by helping to preserve their natural habitats 7.