One of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved characters may actually have a real-life counterpart, and no, it’s not as horrifying as it sounds.
Admit it: While his fictional, fantastical creatures have shaped many a childhood imagination, we as a human species are probably better off that there are no ACTUAL Whos or Grinches or Kwuggerbugs roaming about.
But the Lorax, Seuss’ orange environmental ambassador, lines up suspiciously well with a type of monkey found in Africa.
This discovery was explored by a group of anthropologists and scholars, and their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“The Lorax,” an environmental fable about the titular creature and his fight to save the exploited Truffula trees, was published in 1972. Two years before that, Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, took a trip to Kenya.
These two seemingly unrelated facts were put together during a chance meeting between Dartmouth anthropology professor Nathanial J. Dominy and Geisel biographer Donald E. Pease. Dominy, a primate researcher who has conducted work in Kenya, decided to see if the description and illustrations of the Lorax – penned by Geisel’s own hand – matched up with any Kenyan primates.
Through a series of deeply confusing-sounding facial matching tests (” t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding,” which “down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization”), Dominy and his team came up with an answer: The patas monkey.
According to the study, the Lorax and the patas monkey share several traits, from their stout primate stature to their bushy faces and even their voices.
“[I]t is probable that Geisel encountered [patas monkeys] at the Mount Kenya Safari Club,” the study says. “Even the voice of the Lorax (a ‘sawdusty sneeze’) resembles the ‘whoo-wherr’ vocalization of patas monkeys; the ‘whoo’ is a loud, wheezing expiration of air.”
The similarities don’t stop there. The researchers also noted the Lorax’s beloved Truffula trees not only resemble the whistling thorn acacia, a type of tree found on the African Savannah, but that particular tree actually provides food for the patas monkey.
While all of this is informed conjecture (after all, Dr. Seuss wrote and drew a lot of really weird stuff), the appearance of the Lorax (the character) combined with the purposeful ecological message of “The Lorax” (the book) do paint an interesting picture.
“These findings support our hypothesis that Geisel drew inspiration from a cercopithecine monkey and its ecology,” the study reads. “When put together with the fact that the book was written while on safari in Kenya, the coincidence seems striking.”