Not only humans, `orangutans can act too`

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 15:43

London: They may not be versatile
Hollywood actors, but orangutans can act -- in fact, they have
been caught on camera acting out their intentions and desires,
proving humans aren`t alone in being able to do this.

Apes such as orangutans and chimpanzees were already
known to display meaningful gestures.

Now, an international team has captured orangutans
on camera performing "pantomimes", in which they express their
intentions and desires by acting them out, a finding which
challenges the view these behaviours are exclusive to humans.

"Pantomime is considered uniquely human. It is based
on imitation, recreating behaviours you have seen somewhere
else, which can be considered complex and beyond the grasp of
most non-human species," Anne Russon from York University, who
led the team, was quoted by the `New Scientist` as saying.

The biologists have based their findings on an
analysis of 20 years of data on the behaviour of free-ranging,
rehabilitated orangutans.

They found 18 cases of orangutans clearly acting
out a message. Sometimes it was a simple mime, such as body-
scratching using a stick, probably to encourage another
orangutan to groom the actor.

In more elaborate cases, orangutans faked an inability
to do something in order to elicit help. One even re-enacted
an event that had happened in the past, when a biologist had
used a leaf to treat the young ape`s sore foot.

"Now it has to be clear that this is not exclusive
to humans," said Robert Shumaker of Indianapolis Zoo, adding,
it adds to evidence of complex culture among orangutans which
have even been seen to fashion musical instruments.

"Most of the pantomimes observed were between an
orangutan and a human, but the orangutans weren`t taught these
actions. They occurred in normal communication, not elicited
or prompted by a researcher, in the normal course of daily
behaviour," Russo said.

Nonetheless, these apes were used to human contact.
The next question is how often this happens among wild apes,
Shumaker said.

The findings have been published in the `Biology
Letters` journal.

PTI



First Published: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - 15:43

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