“Thumbs, Toes, and Tears, And Other Traits That Make Us Human.” If you missed the piece, last week on the 5 o’clock news, it is the title of a book about the characteristics that separate us from all other creatures. The author, a local guy, has worked for CNN, made documentaries in Africa for PBS, and written television screenplays. Chip Walter now works for UPMC and teaches science writing at CMU, having written for magazines like “Scientific American,” and “The Economist.” Quite the resume.

I confess, it was his idea to use the zoo as a setting for the interview. Frankly, any chance to go to the zoo, especially to see the elephants, is fine by me.
So we found a way to weave Tash and the gang into the story. Willie Theison, the Elephant Manager there, is a wizard with them, and a veritable font of information about animal behavior. Do elephants shed tears that are tied to emotion? Both Willie and Chip say there are no studies that conclusively prove it. We seem to the be the only animals that do cry.

And if you have been weeping about your toes, give them a break. That weird thing you stub in the middle of the night while you stumble to the bathroom, that you paint, and squeeze into under-sized shoes, that grows those little tufts of hair— THAT is one of the attributes (if you saw mine, you would not call it that) that separates us from other animals, and enabled us to walk upright. Which leads me to Zuza. Or walks me to him…chuckle,chuckle. (bad, bad). I am not sure I am spelling

Zuza correctly, but I am sure we were all positively spell-bound by this hulking silverback, whom the lead primate keeper calls a “sweetie.” He is so breath-taking, don’t you think? And this ominous-looking gorilla loves to dance for Karen Vacco, the keeper. She says he twirls around making laughing noises..and as Chip and I did the interview, at the exact momemt Chip mentioned that Zuza can walk up right, but not for too long, and not comfortably, Zuza ran down the tree behind us —upright!!! Almost as if to say ,”Hey, don’t get too arrogant..I can do this..sort of!!!” We tried to freeze the video here to show

him between us, in the background. Next time you go to see the polar bears, check out the elephants and gorillas..So much separates us as species. But it is also fun to contemplate about the qualities we share..


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