Monday, May 11, 2009

More Thoughts on Wood Knocking

According to the BBC News website, another interesting, and startlingly human-like, behavior has been observed in one of the great ape species. For only the second time, wild female western lowland gorillas were seen clapping their hands to get the attention of male silverbacks and/or their infants. The article can be accessed here.

The behavior was observed and recorded by Ammie Kalan of Oxford Brookes University and Hugo Rainey of the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Lac Tele Community Reserve Project in the Republic of Congo. Their report, published in the journal Primates, includes several episodes of female gorillas using hand clapping to put a stop to certain behaviors of their infants. “A female was able to exert control over her infant’s behavior by hand clapping.” said Kalan. She added, “What struck me most was how it was conducted in such a controlled and deliberate manner while in a bipedal position; much like a human would hand clap.” Kalan went on to say the behavior reminded her very much of a human mother clapping in the direction of a child in order to quickly alter an undesired behavior.

In addition to using hand clapping to address infant behavior, two female lowland gorillas were observed using this technique in what appeared to be an attempt to get the attention of a male silverback. Kalan and Rainey twice observed females clapping their hands in what they deemed a clear attempt to, “alert a male silverback to the presence of human observers.” The message was evidently received by the big male as each time the claps were heard he attempted to intimidate and drive off the human interlopers. The silverback’s intimidation displays included loud roaring from behind a tree, drumming on the buttress roots of the tree, and chest beating.

Hand clapping as a form of communication has been observed in wild gorillas only twice previously. Twenty-five years ago noted primatologist Diane Fossey observed the behavior in a single female mountain gorilla off an on over a four year period. The only other time hand clapping was observed in western lowland gorillas was an incident witnessed by J. Michael Fay twenty years ago. The observations of Kalan and Rainey suggest that hand clapping is used by these great apes in an effort to communicate over long distances, particularly to the dominant male protectors, and as a way to quickly gain the attention of group members, notably infants and juveniles. Kalan said, “It’s a form of gestural communication that has largely been overlooked by gorilla researchers. The hand clap allows the gorillas to maintain group cohesiveness.” Despite the observations of Kalan and Rainey, hand clapping remains a seldom witnessed behavior in gorillas. This would suggest that gorillas might develop varied methods of communication depending on the specific location and culture of each group.

The hand clapping behavior of these great apes is very interesting to me as is the response to it by the male silverback. I have not heard of any accounts where an alleged sasquatch witness claims to have seen the creature clap its’ hands in an effort to communicate with another individual or as a form of intimidation. However, it isn’t too far a leap, in my opinion, to think that the sound of two powerful hands popping together could be mistaken for the wood knocking sounds often reported in the deep woods of North America. Neither does it seem too long a stretch to consider it a possibility that the wood knocking could be a response to a hand clapped alert. The male silverback did respond to the hand clapping female by beating on the base of a tree and drumming its’ chest. It seems possible the sounds generated by these responses could be mistaken for "wood on wood" and account for at least some of the strange wood knocking being heard in the most remote wilderness areas of our continent. It would be interesting to see if reporters of wood knocks heard any other strange sounds, like a possible hand clap, prior to hearing the knocks.

Food for thought…


  1. Very interestng Mike. Now that you've addressed it I can see how the pop of a hand slap from a hand that size, being driven by arms that big, could be mistaken as a wood knock.

    Excellent write up. I really enjoy how you take what you find out there, and in turn post your thoughts and how you read into it here....great stuff (thumbs up).

  2. Thanks, Dennis. I appreciate that.

    By the way, I share your loathing of shrimp jambalaya MREs. Blech.

  3. LOL...the scary part is I restocked our MREs awhile back and I'm begining to use those cases now here and there...I probably have 5/6 (or more) of that particular 'meal' in stock...I'm gonna try one out on my son, the kid will eat anything so it will be a fair test to see if that stuff is downable by anyone that isn't half staved to death ;)