photo by Paulo Philippidis (canorus on Flickr Creative Commons)

Studies analyzing some 20 years of footage taken of Orangutans in the jungles of Borneo are giving scientists fascinating insights into how these great apes communicate.

The footage shows the orangutans using mime as a means ‘talking’ with one another. These messages include the desire to have an itch scratched and a termite nest opened.

From an article in the Guardian:

The study suggests they are capable of more complex communication than previously thought, and resort to mimes to elaborate on messages directed at other apes and their former keepers.

The orangutans observed formerly lived in captivity, but the footage, which displays 18 instances of miming, was taken while they were living in the wilds of Indonesian Borneo.

Sometimes the orangutans enacted mimes as false information in order to trick or distract researchers. Reminds me of my old family dog pretending to lose interest in his ball but then suddenly pouncing on it as soon as I’d move to pick it up.

One orangutan shared a memory with a conservationist who had once helped heal a cut on her foot, mimicking the previous actions her one time helper. Another mimed as an expression conveying the desire to trade one object for another:

When she was not given the umbrella, she then picked up a leaf and held it over her head, mimicking the person holding the umbrella. She then offered the branch to the conservationist and tried to take the umbrella in return, revealing the motive behind her performance.

–BBC News

Still another orangutan spied a researcher texting on his iPhone and then mimed typing “LOL” onto a coconut. Just kidding.

For more on this fascinating story, see the entire article from BBC News as well as a short video of an orangutan miming:

Orangutans mime to get message across

I’ll also take this opportunity to post my favorite video of orangutans – yes, I have a favorite video of orangutans, don’t you?

It’s from the BBC Earth program with David Attenborough and shows a female orangutan traveling by canoe, washing socks and doing a bit of DIY. And I’m not kidding this time.

Attenborough: Amazing DIY Orangutans – BBC Earth

About The Author: Graham Land

Greenfudge editor and London-based writer Graham Land grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, where he was part of the local hardcore punk scene, playing in several bands. Through this musical movement he became involved in grass roots interests such as anti-racist activism, animal rights and Ecology. In 2000 he relocated to Europe, eventually earning an MA from Malmö University in Sweden. He has also lived in Japan, Ireland, Portugal and Greece.


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