Could the blockbuster sci-fi film Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, in which primates become intelligent and form a civilisation, one day mirror reality?
Experts say it depends on whether apes have the potential to evolve intelligence to rival that of humans. A recent US study suggests they could.
Researchers took 99 related chimpanzees, ranging from siblings to fourth and fifth cousins, and gave them a range of cognitive tasks to measure their intelligence.
"What emerged was a very strong correlation between intelligence and relatedness," says AUT Applied Ecology Institute director Steve Pointing.
A second study released in the past week backed up evidence of a genetic basis for intelligence in apes, showing a gene encoding social behaviour in humans has a variant found only in chimpanzees of higher intelligence.
In addition to super-intelligent apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes features a disease, simian flu, first hinted at in the previous instalment Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It wipes out most of humanity, paving the way for apes to take over.
"This is a reality already," says Prof Pointing. "HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, is a disease which made the leap from apes in Africa to humans several decades ago."
He says without modern medicine, animal-originated diseases like AIDS and the Spanish flu could potentially have the devastating impact depicted in the film.
But would the destruction of human society realistically give apes a chance to take over?
"In the movie chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans, gibbons all live together and form this ape society – but we have to remember these are different species. If you take a step back and look at humans, we're one species and we find it hard enough to get along on this planet."
If there's one hope for humanity in an ape-dominated future, it's that species such as chimpanzees and bonobos that are actually more related to humans to gorillas.
"I wonder if we couldn't convince them to fight on our side and even things up a bit," laughs Prof Pointing.
Something apes won't master anytime soon however is speech – they just don't have the right physiology, says Prof Pointing, but could certainly learn sign language.
source: newshub archive