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Anthropologists Discover Real-Life Inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s Lorax

Turns out the famous children's book protagonist was based on a real animal.

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The Lorax is one of Dr. Seuss’s most beloved books. It tells the story of the Lorax, who “speaks for the trees” when humans begin to destroy the forests to create a Thneed, a rare and valuable garment. Along with providing a positive environmental message to children for nearly 50 years, the book has endured because of the Lorax himself. His stocky build, orange fur, and bushy yellow mustache have made him one of the most recognizable Suess characters of all time, second maybe only to Cat in the Hat. Now a group of professors from Dartmouth College believes they have found Theodor Seuss Geisel’s real-life inspiration for the Lorax.

Nathaniel J. Dominy, an anthropology professor, and Donald E. Pease, an English professor who has written a biography on Geisel, have published a new study titled “Dr. Seuss and the Real Lorax,” in which here they reveal that the Lorax was likely based on the patas monkeys, a primate that lives in West and East Africa.

According to the Washington Post, the two were seated next to each other at a faculty dinner when they began to discuss The Lorax. Pease mentioned that Suess wrote the book after visiting Kenya in 1970, and Dominy, who is an expert on primates in Kenya, wondered if perhaps a specific monkey inspired Seuss to create the famous character.

Dominy, along with Pease and two other scholars, began to search for which specific monkey may have been the real-life Lorax. Explaining their methodology, Dominy said: “We used eigenface decomposition methods to calculate facial similarities and we generated the plot with t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE), an iterative algorithm that down-projects multidimensional information into two dimensions for visualization.”

Or in laymen’s terms, they used an algorithm to figure out which monkey had the most similar facial structure to the Lorax and eventually concluded it was the patas. The big giveaway? The mustache, of course. The patas monkeys have a distinct mustache similar to that of the Lorax. They also almost entirely eat “the Seussian-looking whistling thorn acacia trees of the Laikipia plateau”, which may have inspired Seuss when he was designing the Truffula.