Orangutans

 The Librarian was not familiar with love, which had always struck him as a bit ethereal and soppy, but kindness, on the other hand, was practical. You knew where you were with kindness, especially if you were holding a pie it had just given you
—  Terry Pratchett - Unseen Academicals

Some Smithsonian National Zoo Zookeeper: hey guys, orangutans are primarily an arboreal species, we should give them a massive climbing trail throughout the zoo so they can climb like they would in the wild!
Smithsonian National Zoo Exec: excellent suggestion Zookeeper Smith the tourists will love it

*cut to a crowd of horrified tourists screaming in terror as the orangutans gleefully pee on the unsuspecting masses*

Smithsonian National Zoo Zookeeper: enrichment

How Smart are Orangutans?

Along with our other great ape cousins – the gorillas, chimps, and bonobos – orangutans belong to our Hominidae family tree, which stretches back 14 million years. As the only great apes from Asia, orangutans have adapted to a life high in the rainforest canopies. 

Many of the skills they learn are transmitted through the special bond they have with their mothers – the most extended in the animal kingdom next to humans. Orangutan mothers usually give birth to one baby at a time, waiting up to 8 years before having another. This gives the young, who begin as fully dependent infants, plenty of time to learn how to climb and distinguish the hundreds of plants and fruits that make up their diet. Female orangutans even stay with their mothers into their teen years to learn child-rearing.

As they grow up, orangutans also develop a complex set of cooperative social skills by interacting with their peers and siblings. Much like ourselves, young orangutans involuntarily mimic the facial expressions and emotions of their playmates, with behaviors that closely parallel human smiling and laughter.

Once they finally venture out on their own, orangutans continue to develop their resourcefulness, putting the skills they’ve learned into practice. Adults build a new nest each night by carefully weaving twigs together, topping them with soft leaves, pillows and blankets. This process requires dexterity, coordination, and an eye for design.  

Orangutans also use a variety of tools to make their lives in the jungle easier. They turn branches into flyswatters and backscratchers; construct umbrellas when it rains; make gloves from leafy pads ; and even use leaves as bandages to dress their wounds.

But orangutan intelligence goes far beyond jungle survival. Research in controlled environments has shown that orangutans are self-aware, being one of the few species to recognize their own reflections. They also display remarkable foresight, planning, and cognition.

While orangutans are able to pass cognitive tests with flying colors, there are certain problems that they need our help to solve.  Indonesia has the world’s highest rate of deforestation, and millions of acres of rainforest are burned annually to support the logging and palm oil industries.  Deforestation exposes the 30,000 orangutans remaining in the wild to poachers. They kill mothers so that baby orangutans can be sold as exotic pets.

In Malay, the word orangutan translates literally to “the person of the forest” – a reminder of our common lineage. And despite orangutans being some of the smartest animals on Earth, outsmarting their extinction requires the creativity, empathy, and foresight that our species share.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How smart are orangutans? - Lu Gao

Animation by Anton Bogaty

theguardian.com
New species of orangutan discovered in Sumatra – and is already endangered
Scientists identify new species of great ape, Pongo tapanuliensis or Tapanuli orangutan, but fear its survival is already in doubt as habitat under threat
By Nicola Davis

A new species of great ape has been discovered, according to scientists studying a small population of orangutans in northern Sumatra.

Among the great apes – a group that also includes humans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos – orangutans are our most distant relative. Since 2001, two distinct species have been recognised: the Bornean (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran (Pongo abelii) orangutans. Now, it seems, there is a third.

“It is incredibly exciting to describe a new species of ape,” said Serge Wich, professor in primate biology at Liverpool John Moores University and a co-author of the research. Wich also noted that it was a shock to find such a distinct population given Sumatran orangutans are found just 100km away.

Continue Reading.

A young male orangutan makes the 30-metre climb up the thickest root of the strangler fig high above the canopy in Gunung Palung national park, one of the few protected orangutan strongholds in Indonesian Borneo. Laman had to do three days of climbing to position several GoPro cameras that he could trigger remotely. This shot was the one he had long visualised, looking down on the orangutan within its forest home. Photograph: Tim Laman

pbs.org
Watch Now: The Last Orangutan Eden
Ecologist Chris Morgan travels to the jungles of Northern Sumatra to document the work being done to save its population of wild orangutans. Asia’s most intelligent ape once roamed across the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java, but today, fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. The film cites rapid deforestation — clearing …

Happy #WorldOrangutanDay! To celebrate, travel to the jungles of Northern Sumatra to see the work being done to save its population of wild orangutans.