We can divide apes into two primary categories – Lesser apes and Great apes. The great are significantly important to researchers as they are closely associated with humans. And thus, this category includes chimps, gorillas, orangutans, as well as humans.
Among all the great apes, the orangutans are much alike to humans and share around 97% of our DNA with us. This is why scientists consider them our closest relatives. Orangutans are one of the smartest species of apes on earth. They not only mimic but also learn like us. Their smart inventions meant for survival might really surprise you.
In a recent incident, a wild orangutan was photographed on Borneo island, where he was attempting to catch a fish using some sort of spear made up of a tree branch. The male ape was constantly stabbing the spear in the water in the hope of clutching the fish on its tip. Isn’t it surprising that a non-human is using a tool for food? But believe me; orangutans are full of surprises. So, to get more amused, keep reading!
- What are Orangutans?
- Orangutan Habitat
- Sumatran Orangutans
- Bornean Orangutans
- Tapanauilis Orangutans
- What do Orangutans Eat?
- Orangutan Size
- How Smart are Orangutans?
- Orangutan Behaviour
- Facts about Orangutan
What are Orangutans?
Orangutans in Malay means “Man of the forest”. Orangutans are omnivorous mammals that come under the category of great apes. Its scientific name is Pongo. Their unique sparse red hair colour, typically brown or dark tanned skin tone and strong build body are some characteristic features of orangutans.
Most of the time, the adult males and a few older females partially may have bare backs. This is because they partially or completely lose their back hair as they get older. But the hair on the male is so long as to appear like a cape when he moves.
These animals spent the majority of their time on a tree top. Most of their daytime is spent feeding, resting and climbing. They start their mornings searching the food and eat for two to three hours until they are full. The afternoon time or midday is reserved for rest. And then, in the late afternoons, they prefer travelling.
In the evening time, they construct a comfortable nest with leaves and branches for a good sleep. This acts as a shelter for them when it rains. Also, they are intelligent enough to make umbrellas to protect them from heavy rainfalls.
It is not just their red hair that makes them unique, but they are also unique because of the way they have adapted themselves at the heights of rainforest canopies. They are the most arboreal apes among others. Arms of an orangutan are well suited to spend most of their lifetime, i.e., almost 90% on the tree tops.
They mostly inhabit the tropical rainforest, and their population tends to be more concentrated at higher altitudes or near riversides, freshwaters, swamps etc. In contrast, the drier regions have a small number of orangutans.
In rare situations, they may enter grasslands, gardens, field farms, and shallow lakesides in search of food. Their long and strong structure is adapted for quadrupedal movement. Their sturdy arms help them in moving from one branch to other.
They have long curvy fingers and a toe, which enable them to grip the tree branches powerfully. Lower limbs are comparatively shorter than the upper ones, due to which the arms almost touch the ground when the orangutan stands.
The orangutans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia. But now, they are only present in Borneo and Sumatra. Since 1996, they have been categorized as Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii). But a third species Tapanauilis orangutan (P. tapanuliensis), was identified in later research.
1. Sumatran Orangutans
Sumatran orangutans are more expressive and sociable. They are good at using tools. The males develop cheek pads or flanges much later after reaching maturity. These oranges have longer birth intervals.
2. Bornean Orangutans
The Bornean orangs are confined to Borneo island. They are the third largest apes after the western gorillas. They are truly arboreal but still travel on the ground more than Sumatran orangs. This is because, on these islands, there is no threat of any large terrestrial predator.
3. Tapanauilis Orangutans
Phylogenetic studies related to orangs identified a distinct species, Pongo tapanauilis or Tapanauli orangutans. As per the genetic comparisons, the researchers claim that these orangs diverged from Sumatran orangs around 3.4 million years ago. Thus, they are more similar to Sumatran organs in fur colour and body structure.
Frizzier hair, smaller heads, flattened wide faces, moustaches, and hair-covered flanges are some characterizable traits of Pongo tapanauilis.
What do Orangutans Eat?
Orangutans mostly survive over fruits. They can easily identify 200 different varieties of fruits and are smart enough to avoid poisonous ones. However, it takes about 58-80% of their foraging time.
Orangs mostly prefer fruits with juicy, soft pulp, such as berries, figs, drupes etc. They might also eat leaves and stems during the scarcity of fruits. They can also feed on other food items like bird eggs, insects, ants, honey, bark etc.
In very rare cases, they may practice Geophagy. It means consuming soil, clay or other earthy substances.
The body of an orangutan is not as strongly built as that of a gorilla, yet it is larger than the chimpanzees. Adult male orangutans are twice the size of an adult female. The males can reach up to the height of 1.3 metres, i.e., around 4.6 feet. In contrast, the females can grow to 1.15 metres, i.e., 3.9 feet.
However, their arm span is enormous, due to which the males can stretch their arms about 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip to toe.
How Smart are Orangutans?
Many types of research for a long time have proven the intelligence of orangutans. Many evidences recorded their social as well as physical intelligence. Generally, all the apes are good at mimicking. According to Anthropologist Dr Adriano Lameira, the orangs are quite good at the ‘Do as I do” game. But the orangutans have the skills to do more.
They have a good insight into making and using tools for easy living, just like human beings. Similarly, the traits like problem-solving, caring, memorizing, self-recognition, teaching, imitation and so on make them smarter than his other cousins. Let’s know some of the stories of his smartness.
Fu Manchu Orangutan
One of the most interesting stories among this evidence is of Fu Manchu. He was one of the most notorious escape artists of the 1960s at Omaha Zoo. Although he was not a performer, he became quite famous for his tricks.
The zoo keepers used to lock him in his enclosure every night only to find him outside the next morning, playing and hanging on the trees. This became a pattern. They were so amused that they installed a camera just to monitor him.
From that, they found out that Fu Manchu had been picking the lock with the help of a metal wire. He was so smart that he kept the wire hidden below his cheek pouch and used to take it out only at night.
This story is surprising but real. Fu Manchu was never taught to open the lock. He just observed the keepers and used his intelligence.
11 years old, Rocky was the first orangutan to exactly mimic human speech. His coach trained him to do so. He became so pro at this game that when the coach used to change his pitch, rocky did the same.
Other than these two, there are many other examples and evidence that clearly exhibit the smartness of orangs.
For instance, people observed a female orangutan trying to write with the help of a mosquito coil. In some photographs, orangutans were captured while using a watermelon shell as a hat, a bowl and even as a chair.
Many incidents of orangutans’ deceptive behaviour of faking injury, faking nice to steal researchers’ bags, fooling guards etc., have been recorded many a time.
Orangs are solitary animals. They are comparatively less social than the other apes. Males are loners, but females do bond with their kids for a long time.
They barely trouble others as they are happily engaged in their own lives. While travelling through the forests, they constantly howl or rumble in low voices to ensure they stay out of each other way.
Facts about Orangutan
Orangutans have a true hairline
The orangs have genuine hair like, just like a human. Jeffrey Schwartz, who is studying the correlation between orangs and humans, reported that they have the same hair that comes down from the top of the eyes.
They bond with their mother as humans do
As per the Orangutans Foundation International, only orangutans have that intense bond with their mother after humans. Primatologists believe that it takes around 8-9 years for youngsters to learn everything before their solitary survival. And therefore, their childhood period is so long.
Orangs age the same way as we do
As per the publications in Veterinary pathology, all the great apes age in the same manner. However, human life is much longer life than others.
Apart from that, all of us suffer from muscle mass loss, tooth and bone weakening, ageing, hair loss and greying, sensory impairment, cardiac disorders and hundreds of such conditions.
They talk and communicate
As per the recent findings of Science magazine, orangs can recall their history. They make a noise like kiss-squeaking whenever they spot a predator. This noise alerts the enemy, “I have seen you”. It also lets the other organs know that the danger is around.
They laugh like us
According to primatologist Frans de Waal, the most human-like behaviour of orangs is laughing. Although their laugh is low-pitched in comparison to ours, the facial expressions and waning of the laughing sound are eerily human. Seeing them laugh, you wouldn’t be able to stop laughing along.
They learn from one another
For so long, humans believed that only we are the one who teaches and learn things among us. But that is not true as this property is highly relatable to orangutans also. According to Orangutan Foundation International, the mothers teach their baby orangs how to climb, what to eat, how to build a nest and much more. Similarly, the orangs learn different activities by mimicking each other’s actions.
For instance, the organs of Borneo Island have learned to wipe their chins with a handful of leaves. And the orangs of Sumatra learned to use leaves as gloves while handling spiny fruits. All this by mimicking each other.
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