Not only humans, `orangutans can act too`
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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.


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

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