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The Orangutan has been nicknamed by the locals of Borneo as “man of the forest” for their human like expressions and mysterious intelligence. While classified an ape it is distinctly different than its Gorilla and Chimpanzee counterparts, both in appearance and in behavior. The plight of the Orangutan is that of a creature in dire need as its home environment is one that is being greatly decimated by human development displacing native Orangutan populations bringing them to a critically endangered state. Thankfully places like Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo still have active populations of Orangutans and work to not only educate the public but try to save the species as well.
At Woodland Park Zoo, there are currently five adult Orangutans representative of both Borneo and Sumatran. Two are male, named Heran and Godek. The other three are female named Bela, Chinta, and Melati. The five make up the on-display group at the zoo and the subjects of my observations.
Because I am aware that many primate species frequently use social grooming as a way to pass time, I am interested if Orangutans as a more solitary species also engage in as much social grooming as other species. To determine this, I will observe the social and self-grooming habits of the Orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo over the course of two hours to determine the frequency.
The scientific name of the Orangutan is Pongo abelli (Graham). Geographically they come from Borneo in the dense jungle. The Orangutan’s classification is that of an ape. Their diet consists mainly of fresh fruits, vegetables, vegetation, seeds, and nuts. Orangutans have 32 teeth with short incisors. Sexual dysmorphism, is mainly indicated by a difference in size, with males being much larger than females (Zeller). Males are also likely to have fleshy pouches on their cheeks, throat sacs, as well as facial hair and longer back hair. Locomotion is determined by body size. Smaller individuals can swing through the trees and all can move quadrupedally. They may also occasionally walk upright. Orangutans have small, flat noses. Height of the orangutan is 3.9-4.6 feet and 110-220lbs (Galdikas). Orangutans have long arms in comparison to their body length. Their long orangish hair coat is also unique among apes. Orangutans are considered critically endangered due mainly to a loss of habitat. Orangutans have a semi-solitary social life with ranges that occasionally overlap. Females may range with their offspring or small groups.
The orangutans were content to lay and sleep or look around on their rest area for nearly the first hour. I didn’t see any signs of grooming but at 10:45 Heran sat up and scratched his stomach with a piece of straw in a self-grooming attempt.
10:55 Bela soon followed also picking at her arm as she laid resting. She continued until 11:05
At 11:06 Chinta moves closer to Bela and begins to help groom her in social grooming this last for about 3-5 minutes.
Analysis and Discussion
After watching the Orangutans at the Woodland Park Zoo, it is apparent that self-grooming and social grooming is a part of their daily life, but perhaps maybe not as much as some of the other primates that live at the zoo. To the primates that live in large groups like Lemurs or even Gorillas, social grooming is very important as it builds relationships and keeps social hierarchy in check. Because the literature shows the Orangutans live more solitary lives or in smaller groups one might hypothesize that social grooming is not as important. The literature also states that social grooming is more common among females which I witnessed during my observation.
In conclusion, the Orangutan is a fascinating primate with a more solitary nature than some of its primate counterparts. By looking at the literature provided and witnessing the actions of the animals themselves we can see that they do practice self-grooming and social grooming but not to the extent and frequency that some other primates do.
Galdikas, B. “Social and Reproductive Behavior of Wild Adolescent Female Orangutans.” The Neglected Ape (n.d.).
Graham, Charles. “Orangutan Reproduction in the Wild .” Reproductive Biology of the Great Apes (n.d.).
Zeller, Anne. “Grooming interactions over infants in four species of primate.” Visual anthropology (2010).