How strong is a chimp?

John Hawks has a must read piece in Slate (via Hawks himself) as to how strong chimps are as compared to humans:

Bauman managed to rig his device outside the cage, feeding in a rope for the apes to work on. Then, amazingly, one of the Bronx chimpanzees—a former circus ape named Suzette—managed to pull 1,260 pounds.

Bauman took his study on the road, attempting tests at the Philadelphia Zoo and making inquiries as far afield as Chicago and Cincinnati. In 1926, he returned to the Bronx Zoo, successfully testing the largest chimpanzee then in captivity. That animal, named Boma, pulled 847 pounds one-handed.

How did that compare with humans? As a college teacher in South Dakota, Bauman did what any good scientist would do: He recruited the football team as research subjects. He found that not one of his “husky lads” could pull more than 500 pounds with both hands, and only one had a one-handed pull above 200. What’s more, the football players were free to use the dynamometer as they wished, while the chimpanzees had been forced to pull the apparatus from a clumsy posture in their cages. It appeared that chimpanzees really could be more than five times stronger than humans.

Thus the number entered the anthropology textbooks and made its way into the talking points of recent primatologists like Jane Goodall and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.

But the “five times” figure was refuted 20 years after Bauman’s experiments.

The piece, however, does not answer the question as to what could have gone wrong with Baumann’s experiments and how he came to measure such high numbers which the subsequent researchers never observed — except to note in passing either that the apes might have been under duress, in which case, it would prove that in case of heavy adrenaline rush they might repeat the performance, or that Bauman’s experiments might have been error-prone. But for this small lacuna, a great read!


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