The real-life King Kong was driven to extinction by climate change, researchers have now revealed in a recent study, published in the journal Quaternary International.
Gigantopithecus, a primate which first emerged around 9 million years ago and became extinct approximately 100,000 years ago, is generally considered to be the closest embodiment of King Kong, a terrifying ape which has been featured in numerous horror movies and other adaptations ever since 1933.
The main difference between the two characters, aside from the fact that one actually roamed the Earth in prehistoric times, while the other one was entirely fictional, is the level of familiarity associated with each of them.
While some aficionados may boast that they know every single detail about King Kong, little information has surfaced about Giganthopithecus, which used to populate semi-tropical forests that stretched across-modern day China, Vietnam and India.
Just 4 portions of lower jaws pertaining to this species have been unearthed, alongside several hundred teeth, which at the time of their discovery, back in 1935, had been wrongly believed by Hong Kong merchants to be “dragon’s teeth”.
Based on these sparse remnants, paleontologists had estimated that Giganthopithecus probably stood around 9 feet tall, and its weight was more than 5 times higher than of an adult human being, possibly reaching a staggering 1,100 pounds.
On the other hand, it had been impossible to determine if the colossal primate was bipedal or walked on all fours. Moreover, scientists had continued to be undecided regarding whether the animal had been reddish-brown, like an orangutan, or black, just like a gorilla.
Aside from these aspects related to outward appearance, it had also remained a mystery what this great ape’s daily diet had consisted of, with some scientists believing the creature favored meat, while others insisted it was a full-blown vegetarian, feeding on bamboo just like giant pandas.
Now, it appears that at least this piece of the puzzle has finally been recreated, following a study led by Herve Bocherens, professor at Tübingen University, in Germany.
By conducting an isotope analysis involving tooth enamel samples, scientists have discovered that the nourishment traditionally favored by Giganthopithecus consisted in forest fruit, the animal never relying on meat to supplement its diet.
When the Ice Age occurring during the Pleistocene Epoch led to severe habitat loss, replacing forests with savanna, the giant ape failed to adapt to these changes, unlike early hominids and other primates.
While these more versatile and resilient creatures rapidly switched to grass, roots, leaves and other sources of sustenance found in the new environment, Giganthopithecus proved to be a picky eater.
Since it still required significant quantities of food, the species simply started to die out, its numbers dwindling so rapidly that the real-life King Kong soon became extinct.
For now it’s unclear if the disappearance of Giganthopithecus was also triggered by other factors, such as certain genetic failings or its inability to cope with other environmental changes. Given how few fossils have been identified so far, it seems unlikely that these new questions will be answered any time soon.
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