You probably know that apes are some of the most intelligent species on the planet. They’ve been taught sign language and understand a broad range of human-like emotions. It’s no surprise, considering that we share a common ancestor! Orangutans and humans share 97 percent of the same genetic material, in fact.
But it’s always amazing to see evidence of how intelligent they really are.
A short video taken at the Barcelona Zoo back in 2015 showed proof of it.
In the video, a man sits beside an orangutan enclosure at the zoo. The ape watches him closely as he shows him a leaf, then puts the leaf in a cup. He shakes it several times and then shows the animal that it disappeared.
For a long moment, the orangutan looks intently into the cup. Then he bursts into uproarious laughter that is so strong, it tips him over.
The video was uploaded with a plea for donations to help save orangutans in the wild.
“If you were moved as much as we were, seeing just how similar an orangutan is to a human, you can help save our cousins from extinction in the wild by supporting conservation work,” read the video description. “The Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) is a leading conservation organization in the Borneo, and your donations could help.”
It’s far from the only video you’ll find showing people’s personal experiences with intelligent orangutans. A video uploaded in 2018 showed a man standing by an open orangutan enclosure. Seeing he has a banana; the orangutan holds its hand out and gestures for him to toss the fruit over.
After he eats the banana, he throws it back.
It’s amazing to see how he can communicate with humans.
Orangutans are some of the most intelligent of all the primates. They can laugh, sign, and show all types of emotions, as well as being able to use tools. They even know how to plan ahead for the things they’ll need in the future, according to research.
“The most famous example of this comes from Santino, the dominant male chimpanzee at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden,” reads iO9. “Zoo officials found that in the morning, before the zoo opened up, Santino would collect and cache stones from an adjacent waterbed. Later in the day, he would use those stashed stones as ammunition against zoo visitors.”
A lot of researchers think their intelligence is due, at least in part, to their social structure.
In environments where they have more opportunity for socialization, orangutans show evidence of higher cognitive ability. This may be why orangutans raised in zoos and sanctuaries — where they have regular interaction with humans — often show more abilities than the ones living in the wild.
The bottom line is that orangutans are amazingly observant and know how to learn from their surroundings.
They learn through mimicry, including gestures and sign language. Scientists think their intelligence is on par with a three- or four-year-old human child.
“If you give a chimpanzee a screwdriver, he’ll break it; if you give a gorilla a screwdriver, he’ll toss it over his shoulder; but if you give an orangutan a screwdriver, he’ll open up his cage and walk away,” said Michelle Desilets, Executive Director of the Orangutan Land Trust.
Orangutan mothers teach their babies what foods are bad to eat.
You might even see orangutans washing their faces with washcloths — and they even know how to lie. One orangutan, Chantek, was amazingly skilled at sign language. He would sign the word “dirty” to indicate he needed to use the bathroom. However, his keepers soon learned he was sometimes using it as an excuse to get out of things he didn’t want to do!
Whatever the reasons are for their high intelligence, scientists are still learning about these amazing animals. In the meantime, we can all enjoy communicating, sharing, and even laughing with them.
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