Residents of the Internet are still going apeshit over Shabani, the resident hottie at the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Nagoya, Japan. Over the past few months, he’s enjoyed the attention of an enormous female fan base, who gush about him on social media for being “dark and brooding” and looking like “a hands-on dad.”
It all seems pretty messed up until you take a long, honest look at him. There’s no denying it: He’s one damn fine gorilla. Let’s break down why.
Healthy Equals Sexy
Evolution is driven by natural selection, which in turn is driven by an individual’s “fitness.” Biologically speaking, fitness is an individual’s ability to pass on its genes to the next generation. Whether you’re a human or primate, you’re much more likely to accomplish all that if you’re healthy. Shabani clearly is.
“He’s hot,” Bailey added. “One healthy gorilla.”
Those Eyes Tho
We do, of course, share a significant amount of DNA with our evolutionary cousins, and this plays a role in the handsome gorilla phenomenon. Since we share about 97 percent of our DNA with gorillas and about 99 percent with chimpanzees, we’re bound to see some physical similarities. Professor of Anthropology at New York University Todd Disotell (also associated with CSHO) suggests that the human characteristics we see in apes might make us pay more attention. “He’s a handsome ape, that’s for sure,” Dr. Disotell told INVERSE. “One of the reasons people like primates so much is that we see ourselves in them, but they’re apart from us. Here you have this incredibly well-muscled, incredibly well-defined not-human — but still, you’re thinking human. You see these massive chest muscles and super-ripped arms, and the expression on his face. I could see people conflating that.”
Contributing to his human-like qualities, the whites of Shabani’s eyes — the sclera— are much more pronounced than in other gorillas. “If you look at primates, you can’t see the whites of their eyes,” said Bailey. “They don’t have the sclera showing. Humans are kind of weird in that way.”
According to Bailey, the attraction we might feel for Shabani probably has less to do with the physical characteristics that stem from our shared genes and more to do with the human traits we recognize in him — or think we recognize. Many of his actions — from flexing his muscles to looking lost in thought to taking care of his young and — are tempting to understand by anthropomorphizing the guy.
And this is how the handsome gorilla phenomenon illustrates how blurry the line separating ape and human can be. We have a tendency to act similarly because we are built similarly and it simply doesn’t dawn on us, as humans, to see Shabani as evidence of our similarity to animals rather than vice versa.
“As much as we inflict ourselves on other animals,” Bailey said, “we don’t see animal behavior in ourselves.”
Like most biologists and anthropologists, Disotell agrees. “The standard vernacular is animal versus human, but we are an ape, technically, as well,” he says. “We tend to separate ourselves out, but there’s no scientific justification for that separation.”
But is it Beastial
Disotell thinks a big part of the Shabani phenomenon has to do with Internet meme culture and the prevalence of bizarre Japanese cultural trends. Bailey, who is the first to recognize his good looks, says she’s not looking to get in the cage anytime soon. He’s just not her type.
However, if anyone out there does actually want to get it on with Shabani, they’re going to be sorely disappointed. “As an object of sexual fantasy, gorillas are the least well-endowed of all the apes,” says Disotell. “They’re almost humorously small compared to chimps, orangutans, and humans. So people see this giant, powerful animal, and think virility and all that stuff. But they have extremely small penises and testes.”