Although the ape was not as big as the movie portrays it, the 9-foot tall Gigantophitecus blacki King Kong-like ape died 100,000 years ago because of climate change. As its scientific name shows, this specimen was rather gigantic in comparison to other animals, not only in stature, weighing almost 1,000 pounds.
This ape lived in the southern region of Asia, on the mainland, and in southern China. Scientists’ only links to this massive land mammal are four sets of lower jawbones and about one thousand teeth. Because of this fossil scarcity, researchers have not been able to conclusively portray Gigantophitecus’ physical characteristics. But this has changed due to the efforts of teams from the University of Tubingen and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, known as HEP.
By conducting an analysis on the teeth, scientists were able to discern that the ape was completely vegetarian, but had a diet that did not include bambus. Its natural habitat was in the sub-tropical regions of Asia, where this ape thrived, although this type of region is commonly considered as relatively harsh.
Its disappearance stemmed from the onset of the Pleistocene Epoch’s ice age that caused several climates to completely shift. Gigantophitecus’ dense forest environment changed to a more savanna-like landscape, leading to a shortage in the food supply. Due to its gigantic size, the ape required an enormous amount of sustenance. But with the scarcity of food sources, the ape eventually died from hunger or was forced to relocate, becoming extinct along the way.
The only living relative of this real-life King Kong is the orangutan. Although these apes have an increased specialization on only one type of habitat, they were able to survive the harsh conditions caused by climate change. This was due to the fact that orangutans have an extremely low metabolism, allowing them to survive without large intakes of food over prolonged periods of time.
Although scientists claim the Gigantophitecus was gigantic, their portrayal is not entirely conclusive, if one would consider that you cannot judge an animal’s size just by looking at its jawbone. It could have very well been a primate with massive jaws, similar to how our human relatives, the Denisovans, possessed enlarged jaws.
The factor that is currently being discussed on is how this ape became extinct without any influence from predators or humans. It wasn’t hunted down to extinction, it didn’t present a genetic alteration that propagated across the species, it simply chose to not switch from a forest-fruit diet. By making further inquiries on this subject, scientists will be able to better understand the process of natural extinction in species that have not walked the earth for over 100,000 years.
Seeing how the King Kong-like ape died 100,000 years ago because of climate change, we can apply the scientists’ findings on species that are currently under the threat of extinction from massive deforestation and global warming. Hopefully, these threatened species will not go extinct just like the Gigantophitecus.