The purpose of this essay is to present findings got from the four-hour long observations of four orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)that have been conducted in the San Diego Zoo on
Among four research subjects, there are observable distinctions between social relationships and behavior. Kat, a large and bulky dominant male, bears standard marks of older orangutan male individuals, with protruding bony cheek pads signifying his age and rank. He seemed to be rather territorial and solitary in his social interaction with other orangutans, while being observed.
Maha, a 26-year old orangutan female, appears to be rather shy and even unsociable. However, later, she became more interested in interacting with her mates, particularly Turkiya, in emulating their behavior, and paid great attention to visitors coming to the orangutans’ area.
Turkiya is the youngest female in the group, being 20-year old. Her body size is smaller than one may expect, for she apparently has some serious heart problems. However, she did not express any shyness or fear of an unfriendly attitude on the part of physically fit members of the group.
Finally, Raghdad is a 50-year old female that generally has a reserved attitude. Her dark skin pigmentation alludes to her age, as orangutan females change their pigmentation in accordance with the maturity level.
Chronology of Observations
09.05 a.m. At this moment, three (out of four) orangutans have emerged from their sleep. Kat maintains his distance from the other group members. Turkiya is moving across the area, displaying the highest level of personal activity. Despite her age, Maha generally keeps to herself and appears to feel certain insecurity.
09.10 a.m. Maha seems to have overcome her shyness, standing upfront and walking fearlessly in front of area’s human visitors. The latter seem to have failed to notice her actual gender, characterizing her (and all other orangutans) as ‘he’.
09.15 a.m. Turkiya seizes a tree branch, carrying it with her as a toy. Maha appears to be emulating her behavior.
09.20 a.m. Kat tries to use a stick to fish some insects from the adjacent anthill. His pleased face expression testifies that he is enjoying the weather around.
09.25 a.m. Maha’s gaze met my own, and she seemed to express some sympathy and/or interest in me through her eyes.
09.30 a.m. The two youngest orangutans have seemingly lost interest in their human visitors. Maha is eating (showing her back to my camera), and Turkiya is swinging on one of the trees.
09.35 a.m. The siamang population of the adjacet area wakes up. These apes are more active and fast-moving than the observed orangutans.
09.40 a.m. Kat finally breaks his inactivity, as he has been sitting for 10 minutes in front of visitors now. Despite his heavy gaze, he seems to be enjoying humans’ attention.
09.50 a.m. Maha is enjoying the sunshine and her solitude, having climbed on the artificial tree, standing upright from time to time.
09.55 a.m. Kat tries to fish ants once again. Raghdad appears to be still convalescing from the previous day.
10.00 a.m. Kat joins Maha on the tree. He is standing on his hind legs, hanging and swinging on the tree branch, which he has chosen for this purpose.
10.10 a.m. Turkiya appears within public’s eyesight once again, still carrying a short stick. Then she moves to the tree already occupied by Kat and Maha.
10.15 a.m. Turkiya urinates while being on the tree’s top, earning a loud noise of disapproval of the human audience.
10.20 a.m. Turkiya descends from the tree and starts rolling over in front of the glass window.
10.25 a.m. Kat and Turkiya decide to take some rest from sunbathing, while Maha has been still apparently enjoying this activity.
10.40 a.m. Raghdad appears in the public, moving slowly, as she has just emerged from her sleep.
10.45 a.m. Kat has awakened and showed his affection and good predisposal to Maha by hugging her. However, Maha is characteristically calm in her response to him, swinging to another tree.
10.50 a.m. The orangutan group gathers for feeding, allowing siamangs in.
10.55 a.m. The orangutans engage in hyperactivity unobserved heretofore, since even Kat experiences its impact. Maha is playing with siamangs, while Turkiya is rolling on the ground, covering the distance of up to 80 ft.
11.00 a.m. Kat appears to be searching for something on the ground. It is likely to be some additional nourishment.
11.05 a.m. Maha descends from her tree in search of some edible grass. However, she returns to it soon, supposing that she will hardly find more comfortable elevated places. Turkiya is eating once again, so one may infer that these orangutans are in the perpetual need for nutrition. It may be explained by their highly energetic lifestyle.
Having reviewed the field notes on the research subjects and their behavior, hereby there are some conclusions resulting from the insights received from my experience. Doing so, focus is laid on the issue of orangutan sociability, as this appears to be a significant attribute distinguishing this species from other great apes and Homo sapiens.
First, it is necessary to affirm that the orangutans observed by the researcher displayed a semi-solitary behavior and communication style, which is usually assumed to be characteristic of this species. While clear dominance was visible in Kat’s personal behavior, it was peculiar that younger females did not show any obeisance or expressed fear, while communicatingg with the former. For his own part, Kat did not engage in any violent or abusive behavior in relationships with the females in his group, generally assuming the role of a detached territory protector. Furthermore, the females themselves did not form any visible internal hierarchy based on their age or any other personal attribute. Neither Maha, nor Turkiya expressed any signs of territoriality, as they allowed other females to climb on ‘their’ tree and socialized with them freely. Being the oldest female in the group, Raghdad kept the lowest profile, generally keeping to herself. It is likewise fairly unusual for other species of great apes, or, for that matter, for primitive human societies.
In general, the research subjects belonged to different age categories, with the only one male in the group. On the one hand, this fact enhances the analytical veracity of this study, since diverse age groups have been covered herewith; however, the absence of sub-adult males diminished the study’s capacity to focus on possible power dynamics in the orangutan population. However, the latter is unlikely to engender any significant bias with respect to the observational findings in question.
The dietary behavior of the San Diego Zoo orangutan population similarly warrants attention. While the group members consumed phytogenic nutrients overwhelmingly, their constant search for food, even after the relatively satiating diet offered by the zoo personnel, demonstrated that orangutans’ caloric requirements, in combination with their significant body sizes, lead their individualistic orientation to food procurement. It may be a factor contributing to orangutans’ tendency of a solitary and semi-solitary lifestyle, as the individual mode of food searching does not facilitate the formation of more stable social networks among these great apes. Unlike humans, who depend on shared forms of food gathering and / or cultivation, orangutans have no need for collective “economic” activities.
On the other hand, the orangutans observed in the study displayed a particular lack of territorial aggression in relation to lesser apes, such as siamangs. In fact, their shared feeding demonstrates that orangutans are rather good-natured, not only in their own community, but they are ready to tolerate possible intruders that belong to other ape species on their territory. This behavior may be contrasted to intense territoriality displayed by such species as chimpanzees and humans.
Finally, the attitude of the orangutans to human visitors showed the lack of fear and / or anxiety, when they were subjected to humans’ peering gazes. As the response of older and younger apes demonstrated, these individuals feel relatively comfortable when dealing with external observers. However, this is paradoxical given orangutans’ semi-solitary behavioral habits among themselves. It seems that the future researches should further address this complicated issue.
In total, these observations of orangutans’ behavioral patterns in captivity seem to have demonstrated that this species is generally bereft of the need for intense shared communications that characterize other great apes and human species. At the same time, orangutans lack any pronounced social hierarchy and do not engage in observable intra-species violence. These appear to be their landmark behavioral features.