Scientists have completed a study that suggests that great apes, like their human cousins, have “mid-life crises.” The study found that well-being in orangutans and chimpanzees follows a U-shaped curve also found in humans, starting high in youth, dipping low during middle age, and then climbing again in old age.
Researchers decided to test the primate mid-life crisis hypothesis when Las Vegas residents reported seeing large gangs of paunchy orangutans, sporting bad toupees and tight Hawaiian shirts, prowling the Strip and attempting to convince female bar patrons that they really liked hip-hop music. At the same time, shopkeepers in Rwanda disclosed a spike in sales of Clairol, while observers of gorilla groups in the Congo described male apes determinedly hunting for purple bananas and male and female chimps inexplicably lounging in hillside bathtubs.
In a ground-breaking effort, researchers were able to interview middle-aged apes who had learned American sign language in an attempt to determine the cause of their vague feelings of dissatisfaction. One fidgety female chimp, for example, complained incessantly of feeling bloated and repeatedly adjusted the thermostat in the room during the interview process.
A Silverback with poorly dyed back fur explained that, after years of rooting for grubs and berries and grooming other members of his gorilla community, he was seeing no end in sight. He had grown tired of constantly having to establish his dominance over younger apes, he added, was bored with his daily routine, and had begun to wonder whether there was anything else to his life. The revealing interview was cut short when another researcher mistakenly brought a young female gorilla into the room, causing the Silverback to suck in his gut, beat his chest, and lose interest in further communications.