Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Orangutans Have Specific Culture

An ape is the best animal to study a human being, both biologically and socially

An international group of scientists spent ten years, studying orangutans. As a result of the extensive research, it turned out that orangutans have their own culture. This is a pleasant discovery to make indeed. The scientists determined 24 models of orangutans’ conduct. Those models are distributed by means of imitation, they are direct displays of culture. A cultural conduct appeared 14 million years ago, when orangutans were formed as independent species.

Charles Darwin was an expert in evolution. He once said that if a monkey drinks some alcohol and gets drunk, it will never touch it again. Darwin added that a monkey is a lot brighter than the majority of people in that respect. This is a moot question, really.

A good example of cultural behavior of orangutans is the fact that they use leaves as napkins and gloves. Apes have some rational models of conduct, when they use a stick to get insects from trees, for example. Orangutans have something like a ritual: when they go to sleep, they blow invisible objects off the palms of their hands. Scientists decided to study orangutans, because some of them use labor tools and others don’t.

The UN committee for environment passed a program for saving great  apes that are on the edge of extinction. According to experts’ estimates, all great apes might disappear from planet Earth in ten years. This is possible to happen over the fact that monkeys basically live in poor countries. The local population of those countries catches apes in order to sell them to zoos afterwards. This is one of the few methods that brings some means of living. A baby chimpanzee costs four thousand dollars. A gorilla or an orangutan cost up to ten thousand. Catching a baby ape requires killing its mother. Apes presumably live in large groups, so all those apes, which try to protect their babies, get killed as well. Great apes’ birth rate is extremely low: they give birth to only one baby ape during the period of three or five years.

Margarita Deryagina, a doctor of biological science, is certain that an ape is the best model to study a human being, both biologically and socially. An ape’s DNA corresponds to the human genetic code on the level of 98-99%. An ape’s brain is the same as the one of an Australopithecus, but smaller than the one of a human being. Apes learn a very difficult language of gestures, in which they sometimes use even adjectives. They can make up long phrases of gestures. Their vocabulary is equal to the word stock of a human child of three of four years of age. Some apes have a sense of humor, they even have irony. They treasure a special culture of relations in a family; they never leave their elder “relatives” alone. Apes like to draw, they have a sense of composition. Apes are the only animals that keep playing games when they grow up. In other words, they keep up the activity, which is directly connected with their survival.


Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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