Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What is an orangutang? I don't know, because this post is about orangutans.

Before I begin:  I’ve been away from working on this blog for a while. I started writing this next series of posts a couple months ago, but I just never posted them. I’ve been busy up at camp and 
have had to shift my efforts elsewhere. My time here for the last year has been great . I’m not going to be here forever though, and I don’t want to leave without sharing my experiences with all of you. So I’m going to work extra hard to get at least one post out a week. But moving on…

If you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware that we’re all about orangutans here. So here’s a question…what is an orangutan? A simple question perhaps, but when it comes to simple questions, the answers are rarely as simple or as obvious as we think. As an example, ‘why is the sky blue?’ is a simple question, but to answer it you have to go neck deep into the physics of light and refraction…which means that for most of human history, a simple fact that every 
person who ever lived has been well aware of (that the sky is blue) could not be truly explained until the last 100 years.  

‘What is an orangutan?’ is a rather open-ended question, and has answers on a multitude of levels. So let’s start with something basic: what does the word even mean? Well first of all, the spelling. It's not orangutang. That's just a weird word some redneck said one day, and it somehow spread enough that a lot of people think it's how you spell and/or say orangutan. Actually, it might even be because of that fake juice drink that is supposed to taste like oranges, but really just tastes like like sweat, sugar, and food coloring mixed together. I'm talking about you, Tang. You remember the commercials in the 90s right? A bunch of orangutans running around wearing clothes, sunglasses, and  drinking fake orange juice? I think some unclever guy in their advertising department was trying to think of a name for a new orange drink, and thought "Orange? ORANGEutangs? I got i! TANG!" Uh. No, buddy. There's no G in there. Now nobody knows how to say orangutan. Thanks Tang.

Actually word ‘orangutan’ comes from the Indonesian/Malay words “orang” (person) and “hutan” (forest). So 
orangutan means “person of the forest”. Note that this is why we call the orangutans at Cabang Panti OHs.  So even before the theory of evolution was introduced, or before Alfred Russell 
Wallace came to the Malay archipelago and provided the first full description of orangutans to science, the native Indonesian/Malay people recognized the great similarity in appearance between orangutans and people. Today, we know why we’re so similar: Both humans and 
orangutans are apes, and we share a common ancestor and 97% of our DNA with them.  A word on apes: don’t call them monkeys, unless you want every primatologist within a 15-mile radius 
to track you down and give you a rant about the differences between apes and monkeys. Simply put, apes are a group of primates with upright postures, stiff lower backs, and (most importantly) 
big brains for their body size. If you want a quick and dirty way to distinguish apes from monkeys, well monkeys have tails and apes don’t. Other apes include chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, gibbons, and (of course) humans (no disrespect to gibbons, which are classified as lesser apes rather than great apes, because they’re smaller and more distantly related). 

There’s two species of Orangutans: The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). The bornean species is further divided into several subspecies, 
depending on where the population is found on the island. The orangutans at Gunung Palung are classified as Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii, and these are found in most of central Kalimantan as 
well. The Sumatran Orangutan is found only in Sumatra (I know, plot twist!). While both species of orangutans are endangered, the Sumatrans are listed as critically endangered, because they 
have an incredibly small population. 
There’s a few differences between the two species: Sumatran orangutans are a bit larger in body size, and seem to have a slower life history than Bornean orangutans (e.g., they take longer to 
mature and have offspring less frequently, among other differences). This may be part of the reason that Sumatran orangutans are more endangered, since their life history may make their 
populations slightly more vulnerable to hunting and habitat destruction. The Sumatran species almost rarely comes down to the ground, whereas the Bornean ones do so periodically. There is 
little danger in coming down to the ground for Bornean orangutans, but the ones in Sumatra have a big problem to worry about: the fierce Sumatran tiger! It’s a risk coming down to the ground 
for them, because there might just be a hungry beast waiting for his lunch to climb down the tree – this may account for this behavioral difference among the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. 

Those are just a few of the differences between both species. But what makes orangutans different from all of the other apes? That’s what I’ll be talking about in the next post. 

No comments:

Post a Comment