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6 Ways the 'Scar King' may be Smarter than Kong


With all of the prior villains in the Monster'Verse boasting their threat through raw force, the next installment promises something different indeed. What kind of threat is in store for Godzilla and Kong in their next adventure? And how might the differences between real-life apes hint at the abilities of their upcoming nemesis? With the “Scar King” set to menace monsters and mankind alike in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, this titan’s resemblance to real-life orangutans might be more than for looks. It could indeed indicate a wit and cunning to surpass even the King of Skull Island. Centuries of observation and research by some of the most learned Anthropologists who study such primates just might give us some clues as to what to expect.




Disclaimer:

A direct comparison between Kong and his upcoming nemesis using gorillas and orangutans is not going to be a perfect 1 to 1. Titans are not normal animals and follow their own rules sets. Instead, this perspective will utilize real-life animals as a potential benchmark to scale off from. Filmmakers might have a few surprises in store for us...


APE DIFFERENCES

When it comes to intelligence in the animal kingdom, the great apes are first rate. The closest animals to humanity in terms of both intelligence and appearance, the other great apes have inspired stories and artwork for centuries. And in the Legendary Picture’s Monster’Verse, the most famous ape in fiction no longer stands alone in that regard. As a refresher to beasts of both fiction and the forest, let’s do a quick overview of our contestants and the real-life apes that most resemble them. The Great Ape family can be distinguished from other primates by several traits. Not only are they bigger, but great apes as a whole have larger brains and a greater ability to use tools. Within the Great Ape family are two branches, the Asiatic great apes, and African great apes. As the common name implies, the easiest to spot difference is where the modern species live.


The modern African Great Apes include two species of gorilla, the two chimpanzee species, and humans. This is the group that Titanus kong most resembles, especially the modern Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) with its pronounced muzzle, thick brow, and flattened nose.

The Asiatic Great Apes are what the 'Scar King' most closely resembles. This group did once have many diverse members, but the last few million years have whittled the group down to just a single genus, the Orangutan, with three species. With his very long arms, flattened nose bumpy skin texture, and paled hairs on his face make him most closely resemble the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii).

Whilst all great apes are extremely intelligent, how they apply their intelligence differs because of how they live. Despite being the great ape most distantly related to humans, orangutans have long been noticed for the application of their intelligence. The very word “Orangutan” itself is derived from the Mayala words “Orang” and “Hutan”, which together mean “Forest Person” because the resemblance to humanity was noticed even in ancient times.

So if Kong resembles a gorilla, scaled up to greater size and intelligence, and the 'Scar King' resembles an orangutan given the same treatment, the differences between these real-world apes might give some clues as to how the future nemesis of the Monster'Verse stacks up with Kong. An orangutan is now just a smaller, red colored gorilla which lives in the trees after all.


Remember, the great apes are roughly equal in terms of potential intelligence, but how they apply it differs. And how they live makes that difference.



Gorillas are extremely social animals, living in troops led by a senior male called a silverback. The rest of the troop consists of senior females, subordinate males (often the adult sons of the silverback), younger females who have joined the troop, and the offspring. Western gorillas are among the most social of all apes, with bonds between troop members and the mutual protection of children being common uniting forces. The silverback is not a stoic leader, spending most of his time individually tending to the troop members as their approval ensures his leadership. He also spends much time guarding and playing with the youngsters, as a devoted father and grandfather.


It is extremely rare and unusual to see a gorilla by itself. When kept alone or isolated, gorillas can exhibit heightened signs of stress, sickness, develop depression; even die. Research indicates there were several reasons gorillas evolved to be the largest and most physically powerful of the apes, namely defense. Because they were up against dangers living on the ground, gorilla males especially evolved huge size and strength to protect their offspring. Size, power, and being social, instead of avoiding predators or using their intelligence; was their defense.


Scaled skulls of a bonobo and gorilla. The ancestors of all African Great Apes, like Nakalipithecus, started out fairly small and very much like bonobos. Gorillas getting so big with much more formidable bites was an adaptation for both being pure herbivores and for defense

And when the principal predator in the Congo rainforest is the leopard, one of the most proficient and habitual natural predators of apes (including humans) for millions of years, the extra size and power was the best defense alongside living in large groups.

Whilst gorillas are still extremely intelligent, they don't need to use this intelligence as much when gathering food and or defending themselves. Primarily herbivorous, Gorillas eat roots, shoots, tree pulp, bamboo, and fruits when they can get them.


Knowledge of how to find these is passed along in the troop, but they don’t often employ complex tool use to acquire these foods like some other apes do. Those videos of chimpanzees using twigs to fish for termites? They don't usually do that.


Kong’s species also appears to be extremely social and certainly quite combat oriented when it comes to defending their offspring. The Kong species seemingly took it one step further than gorillas with both the males and females adopting bulky builds, large size, and formidable canines on top of being highly social. The skeletons seen on the island and the flashbacks to the species’ tumultuous history shows that female kongs were about as big as the males.

Orangutans are a bit of a different story. While they do socialize, orangutans typically live alone outside of mothers with children. Male orangutans especially tend to be very reclusive, but have been known to demonstrate spikes of aggression towards potential rivals in a bid to set up a territory several females roam across. An empire if you will. Orangutans have shown complex social dynamics including empathy, consoling, alliances, and even coalitions. A much more fluid and fluctuating system than the gorilla troop. Unlike in the gorilla, father orangutans are typically quite aloof towards their children. Not aggressive, large males rarely have much to do with their offspring outside of a few cases of individuals in zoos. One big difference between gorillas and orangutans however is the aggression shown in males. Silverback gorillas are almost legendary for their patience and calm natures, despite their great power. Younger males, called blackbacks, tend to learn this patience overtime to make them more attractive to females and better fathers. Male orangutans however come in two different varieties, flanged and unflanged.


Despite how iconic they are, not all male orangutans grow the flanges on the sides of the face. The exact cause of why some grow flanges early, some take years to develop them, and don’t grow them at all, is unknown. Flanged males tend to become more robust and calmer towards females and young, letting out loud, booming calls through the jungle canopy. Still patient animals, the only orangs they show aggression towards are rival males. Unflanged males tend to be more wiry, with balding foreheads, and a much different temper. They will cooperate with one another in coalitions, but they will be hostile towards females and flanged males. Most instances of aggressive orangutans involved these kinds of males. These unflanged males just so happen to resemble another type of likely aggressive ape…


Whilst living in the trees most of the time does protect them from some predators, ventures to the ground and threats from tree climbing pursuers are still present parts of life. And while still very large and powerful in their own right, orangutans can’t rely on size and strength to defend themselves as often, especially without large troops to offer backup. Orangutans also have a much more varied diet. Fruit does make up the bulk alongside leaves, but honey, bark, bird eggs, fish, and small animals are also taken. Orangutans are also one of only two known species of ape to eat other primates. With a more varied diet, orangutans employ more diverse tools than gorillas and have to apply their intelligence differently. Let’s learn about some ways that orangutan intelligence differs from gorillas that might give us some hints as to how our latest villain might differ from the heroic King of the Apes.




#1 DECEPTION

Deception is one of the most complex social interactions. Deception requires the individual to both be able to understand what another individual wants or doesn’t want, and plan how to either withhold information or redirect their attention.

Deception has been seen amongst all of the apes to some degree or another. Gorillas however have only exhibited it a little. In a 1991 study using a group of Western gorillas in captivity, the father repeatedly showed some understanding of deception when he wanted to play with his young child against the wishes of the overprotective mother; concealing himself or the child during playtime. However these kinds of behaviors have not been documented in the wild nor have gorillas ever been seen employing tools in cases of deception. The same is not true with all apes…


Never underestimate an orang. They have been known to craft lock picks and hide them until the time comes to use them.



Orangutans are probably the masters of deception though. In the wild orangutans have been seen employing tools to aid in these deceptive tactics. Because the species typically travels alone, long distance calls between individuals are made to announce their intentions and ability. Certain orangutans were seen using foliage to modify their voices as they call out through it, knowing that the results created a much lower pitched call that other apes would think came from a much larger individual. Individuals living around humans in both captivity and wildlife sanctuaries have also demonstrated deceptive tactics when they wanted something that humans had. Ken Allen, a male orangutan at the San Diego Zoo became legendary for his deceptive shenanigans allowing him to escape his enclosure multiple times. Much to the zookeepers’ frustration, Ken would act cute when being watched give away his escape route. Even when the keepers dressed up as tourists to try and trick him, Ken showed awareness of what the zookeepers would want and continued to deceive them. As soon as they were gone, he went right back to escaping and going on walkabouts around the zoo. Another captive orangutan named Fu Manchu took it a step further at the Omaha zoo. Not only escaping with the help of a tool, a lock pick made from a wire; but deceiving his keepers on where he was hiding it. Understanding that this tool is important to escape, Fu Manchu put it in the one place the keepers couldn’t get to it or look for it. He hid it in his mouth and spit it out when the keepers were gone to use it. And he even went as far as causing a jailbreak and releasing other orangutans to have a fun day at the zoo.







#2 TOOL USE

All species of apes have been seen using tools in the wild and in captivity. Gorillas use tools too, like this female making use of a handy branch as a walking stick and gauge to make sure the water she is stepping in and through isn’t too deep to wade across.


A gorilla cleverly using a branch to gauge water depth before crossing risk deep water. Smart, but utilizing a tool found on-site instead of crafting one wholesale. Are orangutans any different?


For a vast majority of their food however, gorillas primarily just use their brute force to gather and eat. Especially since their food is almost exclusively vegetation, which they are powerful jaws can crunch up just fine. Very young gorillas have sometimes been seen using rocks to crack open nuts, but they stopped doing this when they get old enough to just crunch through the shells themselves.


Orangutans eat both plants and animals, and use tools to get both. Twigs to fish out grubs or plant gut from openings inside trees. Consuming certain types of salts and clay to cancel out poisons they might get from certain plants. Fashioning prods to scare catfish out of the water to get a hold of them. And whereas gorillas just use tools as they are, orangutans have been known to modify them for better use.



An orangutan fishing with a branch, smacking the water to startle the fish into jumping



This extends to more than just getting food, as you can see in this video showing a male orangutan modifying a long branch to make better use of it as a switch to shoo off pestering otters. After changing his handle to get a better grip and pulling off some excess pieces, he’s able to successfully tag one of the water weasels that was previously dodging his swings.



Even when confronted with brand-new situations, orangutans use deductive reasoning to understand what the best kind of tool for the job would be. This kind of social organization even amongst solitary orangutans might be a key reason why the upcoming antagonist could potentially pull some tricks not even Kong was expecting. Even though the King of Skull Island is very creative on making tools on the fly himself, the “royal ax” is the very first crafted tool he has kept. But his soon to arrive antagonist might have a wealth of accumulated wisdom and experience, and potentially prefabricated weapons. When it comes to tool craft, he might be a good deal more experienced just seasoned orangutans are more so than gorillas.




#3 PLANNING


Gorillas do demonstrate planning and the wild and in captivity. Gorillas living in zoos and wildlife parks can begin understanding their keepers’ schedule. In the wild this is used by members of the troupe to understand the rotation of certain food sources across the seasons and where to go to find the best access. Orangutans however do seem to take it a step further, able to think creatively and plan ahead. After a reliable tool has been used, it’ll be stashed away in a place the ape will remember so they can use it again later. Orangutans also understand quality in tools, and will go out of their way to make sure they have the best tools even if it takes them longer to get them.


This orangutan fashioned a branch into a tool and stashed it for later by jamming it into the fence, showing it knows it'll need the tool later and planning ahead.



By comparison, most gorilla tool users just make use of what happens to be around, discard the tool when done, and find a new one when the need comes. This demonstrates that orangutans have a concept of reducing workload by taking further advantage of experience. They know that they are going to need that tool again in the future, so they plan ahead by keeping it where they will remember it. Orangutans also have demonstrated a high degree of future planning to a degree unseen in almost any other animal. When orangutans travel, they plan out their route ahead of time, altering plans if rivals, potential mates, or signs of predators are found or detected. This likely also factored in the escape shenanigans talked about earlier, given the orangutans would have been planning to do their stunts so the humans couldn't stop them. Gorillas and Kong, certainly, both have the capability to do this too, but gorillas in reality never really knew they had much need for it. And Kong might need to soon be a fast learner to keep that ax handy and figure out what the Scar King might be planning. Because his rival certainly will be able to estimate what he is going to do. In the novelization for Godzilla vs. Kong, it is stated that the ancestral Iwi and Kongs lived together as one people. It might well have been the architecture in the ancient stronghold and the ideas of how to form weapons to combat other titans might have initially been the human’s ideas. This might also explain why Kong in all of his prior ventures made tools of whatever happened to be lying around. Without the accumulated wisdom of his troop and fellows to draw upon, he was having to improvise. The new titan, the “Scar King”, meanwhile seems to solely stand alone as he slouches on his throne. The fact he is tied to an “Empire” and is seated like a warlord monarch clearly indicates a long memory and reign. Plenty of experience to draw from, and the habits of orangutans to plan ahead might be a factor as well.



#4 OBSERVATION

As the saying goes, monkey see - monkey do. It is true that primates as a whole are very quick on the uptake by watching a more senior primate execute a task. A young gorillas growing up in its troop would be watching both its mother, its friends, and father to learn the ways of the jungle. Orangutans employ many of the same tactics and strategies, even if they are solitary in a majority of their mimicry involves copying their mother. Orangutans that do live in proximity to one another will also very quickly pick up on new tactics or discoveries one of their communities has made. Groups of orangutans have developed unique tool sets, habits, and problem-solving capabilities so unique and complex that several researchers have used the word culture to describe them. However, they do also take it a step further by not only mimicking their own kind, but also other similar kinds of animals. Orangutans have been observed watching Gibbons, a smaller species of arboreal ape native to southern Asia, moving about in the trees to see what kind of food sources they are accessing. Because Gibbons are the fastest things in the treetops they can’t fly, they can cover a lot more ground and might be aware of something the orangutan isn't, like a food source. Orangutans even watch humans in their day-to-day activities and have been known to mimic them. Orangutans probably figured out how to catch fish by watching fishermen. Other times they seem to do it just for fun or for experimentation, such as this amusing instance of an orangutan figuring out how to hold, handle, and use a saw.


As if deforestation wasn’t bad enough with one type of ape doing it…



#5 UNDERSTANDING OTHERS

All apes are empathic to each other. If an individual gorilla is expressing fear or pain, its compatriots will often corral around it to offer comfort or see what’s wrong. Some of this understanding and also extend to how they perceive other apes. Something almost every anthropologist has realized after enough observation is that apes are aware humans are a lot like them too. If an argument breaks out near the gorilla enclosure, the apes will watch and perhaps take sides. If an ape which has been a parent sees a human baby being held by its parents, it understands and shows great curiosity just like they would a new baby in their group. But orangutans especially are very quick to read others and understand what they are doing or what they want. They can understand another's motive and react to it.



This video clearly demonstrates an orangutan understanding human body language and pantomiming, adjusting its communication to try and get the point across easier. These are not gestures other orangutans use for each other, this is a cultivated language to 'talk' to another ape. It knew a human would get the point and used gestured they'd understand.



In another display of curious mimicry, this orangutan started experimenting with a pair of sunglasses dropped into her home. She quickly figures out what the sunglasses are, knows humans have used them, experiments using them herself; and then deduces the human wants the glasses back but only gives them back after getting something herself.


This might well be why the “Scarred King’s” dominion is vast enough to to call it an empire. It was the Iwi word for Godzilla’s kind, “Zo-zla-halawa” which translated to “Great Eternal Enemy”. Jia learned that word from Iwi, not Kong. Kong grew up an orphan and so any traditions his parents and troop might have taught died with them. That implies that when the Iwi and Kongs were “one people”, the Iwi had a strong hand in working on projects like the citadel in the Hollow Earth, the weapons, and war with Godzilla’s kind.


This newcomer didn't seem like they needed any human input or help to do what they did. They learned, they developed, and now it seems they plot; all on their own.



CONCLUSION


The natural world is more than just brains versus brawn. However, there are a few comparisons where those categories do somewhat lineup. Gorillas and orangutans both descended from smaller apes that didn’t look all that much different from each other. Some extinct relatives of the orangutan like Gigantopithecus, probably did live a lot like gorillas. But evolution of both their bodies and behaviors took a different route.

The gorilla evolved to live on the ground, so its defense against threats was to live in large groups and evolving larger size and more formidable physicality to fend off threats. They didn’t need complex tool use because they just didn’t live in scenarios where that would’ve been useful. Security by strength for defense. Orangutans largely had to survive on their own with less formidable bodies. They had to be more observant of their environment to avoid dangers and figure out the best tool options to get the most food possible. Brain power takes a lot of calories so they put in to get by on just lots of ground vegetation like the gorilla could. They had to prioritize the higher energy foods and all the little tricks on how to get them. The Monster’verse has seen some horrific threats of might and power, either individually or with the potential to spread like a horde of locusts. The MUTO, Ghidorah, the Crawlers, and Mechagodzilla. Now, what might be in store with a foe bearing the scaled up cunning of one of the most intelligent animals to ever exist? Time will tell....


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