After tracking and studying wild orangutans for several years, a team of researchers has determined that the animals are able to plan their travel in advance and let others know of their movements a day ahead of time. This very human-like behavior surprised the research team and implies that orangutans may be more like us than we ever imagined.
Primatologist Carel van Schaeik, who lead the team, said “[o]ur study makes it clear that wild orangutans do not simply live in the here and now, but can imagine a future and even announce their plans.”
Van Schaeik and his team followed groups of orangutans for years, making note of the animals’ travel patters, vocalizations and body language. They began to notice that dominant males, who typically did the most traveling, would often give an extremely loud call in one direction and then move in that same direction for several hours. If the orangutan decided on a different destination, he would give a call in the new direction before setting out.
The research team discovered that the males did this to send a message to other orangutans at the chosen destination. Because the call of a grown orangutan can travel for several miles, the group would hear of the male’s approach several hours to a full day before his arrival.
The groups of orangutans also responded to the call. Typically, the females would move in the direction of the approaching male while the non-dominant males would leave the area.
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