Thailand's King Kong, a victim of climate change and diet?

Thailand's King Kong, a victim of climate change and diet?

Gigantopithecus – Nature's best attempt at producing a King Kong – was king of the forest in Thailand and surrounding areas until climate change and a dislike of grass likely caused its extinction, scientists suggest.

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Why the real King Kong became extinct?

PARIS, AFP – The largest ape to roam Earth died out 100,000 years ago because it failed to tuck into savannah grass after climate change hit its preferred diet of forest fruit, scientists suggest.

Gigantopithecus – the closest Nature ever came to producing a real King Kong – weighed five times as much as an adult man and probably stood three metres tall, according to sketchy estimates.

In its heyday a million years ago, it inhabited semi-tropical forests in southern China and mainland Southeast Asia.

Until now, though, almost nothing was known about the giant's anatomical shape or habits.It is often referred to by scientists as G blacki, although its colour is unknown.

The only fossil records are four partial lower jaws, and perhaps a thousand teeth – the first of which turned up in the 1930s in Hong Kong apothecaries where they were sold as "dragon's teeth."

The fossils came from Thailand, where the great ape lived, but it never has been clear exactly where and there is little other evidence of the animal's life in what is today Thailand.

These meagre remains "are clearly insufficient to say if the animal was bipedal or quadrupedal, and what would be its body proportions," said Herve Bocherens, a researcher at Tübingen University in Germany.

Its closest modern cousin is the orangutan, but whether Gigantopithecus had the same golden-red hue, or was black like a gorilla is unknown.

Another mystery: its diet. Was it a meat-eater or a vegetarian? Did it share a taste for bamboo with its neighbour the prehistoric giant panda?

Answering this riddle might also tell us why a monster that surely had little to fear from other fauna went extinct.

A researcher holds a fossilised tooth from the Gigantopithecus found originally in Thailand. (Photos Creative Commons licence via Wikipedia)

That's where the teeth had a story to tell.

Examining slight variations in carbon isotopes found in tooth enamel, Bocherens and an international team of scientists showed that the primordial King Kong lived only in the forest, was a strict vegetarian, and probably wasn't crazy about bamboo.

These narrow preferences did not pose a problem for Gigantopithecus until Earth was struck by a massive ice age during the Pleistocene Epoch, which stretched from about 2.6 million to 12,000 years ago.

That's when Nature, evolution – and perhaps a refusal to try new foods – conspired to doom the giant ape, Bocherens explained.

"Due to its size, Gigantopithecus presumably depended on a large amount of food," he said.

"When during the Pleistocene, more and more forested area turned into savannah landscapes, there was simply an insufficient food supply."

And yet, according to the study, other apes and early humans in Africa that had comparable dental gear were able to survive similar transitions by eating the leaves, grass and roots offered by their new environments.

But for some reason, Asia's giant ape – which was probably too heavy to climb trees, or swing in their branches – did not make the switch.

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  • adult: a fully grown person who is legally responsible for their actions - ผู้ใหญ่
  • anatomical (adj): connected with the structure of human or animal bodies or the structure of plants - ที่เกี่ยวกับโครงสร้าง
  • ape (noun): a large animal like a monkey, with no tail - ลิงไม่มีหาง
  • apothecary (noun): (old word) a person or place making/selling drugs and medicines - ผู้ผสมยา,เภสัชกร, ร้านขายยา
  • bamboo (noun): a tree that grows in thick bunches of long green poles - ต้นไผ่, ไม้ไผ่
  • bipedal (adj): having or walking on two feet - มีสองเท้า
  • branches (noun): the parts of a tree that grow out from the main stem and on which leaves, flowers and fruit grow - กิ่งก้าน
  • climate change (noun): the gradual change in the world's weather that has resulted in dangerous storms and flooding - การเปลี่ยนแปลงสภาพทางภูมิอากาศ
  • comparable: similar to somebody/something else and able to be compared - ที่สามารถเปรียบเทียบกันได้
  • conspire (verb): to work together to do/cause something bad or harmful - ร่วมกันวางแผนร้าย
  • cousin: a child of your uncle or aunt; someone who is related to you through a brother, sister, uncle, or aunt of one of your parents - ลูกพี่ลูกน้อง, ญาติห่างๆ
  • crazy about (idiom): liking something very much - ชอบเป็นอย่างมาก
  • dental (adj): related to the teeth and gums - เกี่ยวกับฟัน
  • depend on: to rely on - พึ่งพา  
  • diet: the food and drink usually taken by a person or group - อาหาร, สิ่งที่กินได้
  • doom (verb): to cause to be certain to fail, die or be destroyed ซึ่งถูกกำหนดไว้ว่าจะเกิดเรื่องไม่ดี - ชี้ชะตา
  • dragon (noun): a large dangerous creature in old stories that breathes fire and has wings and long pointed tale - มังกร
  • due to: because of - เนื่องจาก
  • enamel (noun): the hard white outer layer of a tooth - ชั้นนอกของฟัน, เคลือบฟัน
  • environment: a place, including all the physical conditions that affect it - สภาพแวดล้อม, สิ่งแวดล้อม
  • epoch (noun): (geology) a length of time which is a division of a period - สมัย
  • estimate: an amount that you guess or calculate using the information available - ประมาณการ
  • evidence: facts, signs or objects that make you believe that something is true - หลักฐาน,ข้อแสดง
  • evolution (noun): the gradual development of plants, animals, etc. over many years as they adapt to changes in their environment; the gradual development of something - วิวัฒนาการ
  • extinct: an extinct animal, plant, or language no longer exists - สูญพันธุ์
  • fauna: all the animals living in an area - สัตว์ประจำเขตภูมิภาคหนึ่ง
  • fossil: the remains of an animal or a plant which have become hard and turned into rock - ซากพืชหรือสัตว์ที่เป็นหิน, ซากฟอสซิล
  • gear (noun): the special equipment that you use for a particular job or activity - อุปกรณ์
  • giant: very large; much larger or more important than similar things usually are - ยักษ์
  • habits (noun): things that you do often and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop doing - กิจวัตร, สิ่งที่เป็นนิสัย, สิ่งที่ทำเป็นประจำ
  • heyday: the time when somebody/something had most power or success, or was most popular - สมัยที่รุ่งเรืองที่สุด, ช่วงที่ประสบความสำเร็จที่สุด
  • hue (noun): a degree of lightness, darkness, strength, etc. of colours - ความมืดหรือความสว่างของสี
  • ice age (noun): one of the long periods of time, thousands of years ago, when much of the earth’s surface was covered in ice - ช่วงอายุน้ำแข็ง, สมัยน้ำแข็ง
  • inhabit (verb): to live in a particular place - อยู่อาศัย
  • insufficient: not enough - ไม่เพียงพอ
  • isotopes (noun): forms of a chemical element which have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons in their atoms. They have different physical properties (= characteristics) but the same chemical ones - ไอโซโทป, ธาตุที่มีคุณสมบัติทางเคมีเหมือนกัน โดยมีจำนวนโปรตอนในนิวเคลียสเหมือนกันแต่จำนวนนิวตร
  • jaw (noun): the bone on the lower part of the mouth that goes up and down when chewing food - ขากรรไกร
  • landscape: the appearance and characteristics of an area of land - ภูมิประเทศ, ภูมิทัศน์
  • mainland: a large mass of land that forms the main part of a country but does not include any islands belonging to the country - แผ่นดินใหญ่
  • massive: very large - มหาศาล
  • meagre: a small amount or quantity - ขาดแคลน
  • monster: (in stories) an imaginary creature that is very large, ugly and frightening - สัตว์ประหลาดในนิยาย,สัตว์ที่น่าเกลียดน่ากลัว
  • mystery: a quality that makes someone or something difficult to explain, understand, or get information about, especially when it also makes them seem interesting or exciting - สิ่งที่ไม่สามารถอธิบายได้, ความแปลกประหลาด
  • narrow: limited in numbers; very close - แคบ, มิดชิด, ทัดเทียมกัน,พอ ๆ กัน
  • nature: the physical world including all living things as well as the land and the seas - ธรรมชาติ
  • partial: in part, but not complete - บางส่วน
  • pose a problem: to be a possible difficulty or danger - กระทำการซึ่งอาจก่อให้เกิดปัญหาต่อ
  • preferences: things that you want or like - ความต้องการ
  • preferred: liking or wanting more than anyone or anything else - ซึ่งชอบมากกว่า
  • prehistoric: before preceding written history, very early, ancient - ก่อนประวัติศาสตร์, ดึกดำบรรพ์, โบราณกาล, สมัยก่อนประวัติศาสตร์
  • presumably: used for saying that you think something is true based on what you know, although you are not really certain - น่าเป็นไปได้, ซึ่งพอเป็นจริงได้
  • primordial: existing at or from the beginning - ในขั้นเริ่มต้น
  • probably (adv): likely อย่างน่าจะเป็นไปได้, อย่างค่อนข้างแน่, อย่างน่าเชื่อแน่ว่า - อย่างน่าจะเป็นไปได้, อย่างค่อนข้างแน่, อย่างน่าเชื่อแน่ว่า
  • proportions (noun): the relationship of one thing to another in size, amount, etc. - สัดส่วน
  • quadrupedal (adj): walking on four feet - เดินด้วยสี่เท้า
  • records (noun): the facts that are known about somebody/something’s past behaviour, character, achievements, etc. ประวัติ, บันทึก - the facts that are known about somebody/something’s past behaviour, character, achievements, etc. ประวัติ, บันทึก
  • refusal: an act of saying or showing that you will not do, give or accept something - คำปฏิเสธ, การปฏิเสธ
  • remains: the parts of something that are left after the other parts have been destroyed, used, eaten, removed, etc - ซาก
  • researcher: a person who carriers out a careful study of a subject, especially in order to discover new facts or information about it - นักวิจัย
  • riddle (noun): a mystery; a mysterious event or situation that you cannot explain - ปัญหา, ปริศนา
  • roam: to move or travel around in no particular direction - เดินโดยปราศจากจุดหมาย
  • roots (noun): the part of a plant that grows under the ground and absorbs water and minerals that it sends to the rest of the plant - ราก, รากพืช, รากใต้ดิน
  • savannah (noun): a wide flat open area of land that is covered with grass but has few trees - ทุ่งหญ้าสะวันนา,ทุ่งหญ้าขนาดใหญ่อยู่ในเขตร้อน
  • shape: the form of the outer edges or surfaces of something - รูปร่าง, รูปทรง, โครงร่าง
  • similar: like somebody/something but not exactly the same - คล้ายกัน
  • simply: just; only -
  • sketchy: not complete or detailed and therefore not very useful - คร่าวๆ, ไม่สมบูรณ์,ไม่ครบ
  • slight: small in size or amount - เล็กน้อย
  • stretch (verb): to last for a period of time -
  • strict: very careful and exact - เข้มงวด
  • suggest: to show that something is possibly true - ชวนคิด
  • supply: an amount or quantity of something that is available to use -
  • survive: to continue to exist - อยู่รอด  สืบต่อไปได้
  • switch: a change - การเปลี่ยน
  • taste (noun): what a person likes or prefers - รสนิยม
  • transition: the process of changing from one situation or state to another - การเปลี่ยนถ่าย การโอน
  • tropical: relating to the hottest area of the Earth, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn - ในเขตร้อน
  • tuck into: to eat food with enthusiasm because you like it or because you are hungry - รับประทานด้วยความหิว
  • turn up (verb): to discover - ค้นพบ, เจอ
  • variations (noun): changes, especially in the amount or level of something, things that are different from other things in the same general group - การเปลี่ยนแปลง
  • vegetarian (noun): a person/animal who does not eat meat or fish - คนหรือสัตว์ที่กินแต่ผักเป็นอาหาร, คนหรือสัตว์ที่ไม่กินเนื้อสัตว์
  • weigh (verb): how heavy something is; to have a particular weight - หนัก, มีน้ำหนัก

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