Young orangutans have the same characteristics as human toddlers: they are affable, appealing, and affectionate. The difference between them and human children is that when their moms say no, they don’t moan or protest.
Food-gathering techniques are taught to orang-utans by their mothers, who vary their tactics according to the age of the youngster and the intricacy of the food-gathering method. They also recognise when a youngster has reached the age of reason and can make better decisions for himself.
According to a recent research published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, 21 young orangutans were discovered living with their moms in a forest on the west coast of Aceh Province in Sumatra. The researchers documented 1,390 instances of adolescents begging food from their mothers, most of which consisted of just taking the food from their mothers’ hands. The moms are tolerant of this, but only to a certain extent.
Professor of anthropology at Yale David P. Watts, who has written extensively on primate behaviour but was not involved in this research, stated, “No one has done much work on this, and no one had data like this for Sumatran orangutans.” “The entire question of how young primates learn what they need to eat hasn’t gotten a lot of attention,” says the researcher.
Orangutans remain with their moms for eight to nine years, which is far longer than the lifespan of virtually any other animal, with the exception of humans. However, this time is not wasted since they learn how to identify, collect, and digest more than 200 different food items throughout this time.
Foods such as leaves and flowers are readily available and ready to consume. However, for the majority of fruits, which account for a significant percentage of their diet, orangutans must understand when they are ripe, which sections are edible, and how to extract the nutrients from them. Aside from food preparation tools are also required for specific meals. For example, extracting honey from a beehive involves the selection and construction of an appropriate stick, as well as extensive practise in order to develop the skill of utilising it.
An orangutan may be as young as 8 years old before it develops the fundamental skills necessary to feed itself, and it can be as old as 12 years old before it has mastered the most advanced food-finding and preparation procedures.
The researchers discovered that the older the kid is, as well as more easy it is to acquire and prepare food, the less probable it is that the moms would be ready to share. Mothers let their smaller children to take nearly whatever food they want, and they even allow their older children to eat food that is difficult to come by. She will, however, refuse to allow a younger juvenile to take flowers, which are simple to come by and consume, thus signalling the youngster that it is now mature enough to forage for its own food.
Those who have access to the tastiest and most uncommon delicacies — the flesh of tiny primates, squirrels, and civets that orangutans sometimes kill — are eager to share their bounty with offspring of all ages.
It is common for orangutan moms to be patient with their children, and orangutan youngsters to be typically docile and submissive. If a mother does not want to share, she simply looks away from the kid or positions herself in such a manner that the youngster cannot reach the food. There is no slapping, no shouting, no drama — yet the youngster understands what is being said.
Caroline Schuppli, the study’s main author, said, “We know that both humans and orangutans have role models who change their behaviour according to the demands of the learner.” “This is something that parents do proactively in humans; with orangs, the initiative comes from the child – they must beg for the meal.”
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Schuppli of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany, stated that human children are surrounded by enthusiastic teachers — not only their parents, but also extended family members and an entire educational system that is based primarily on active teaching.
In her words, “If you think about what a youngster needs to learn, it’s much beyond their imagination, and it’s well beyond what they might actively request.” “However, with orangutans, things are a lot less complicated.”
Any animal study, and possibly particularly with primates, runs the risk of being anthropomorphized, which is the practise of assigning human features or behaviour to animals without providing sufficient proof for the claim. Dr. Schuppli makes an effort to suppress the urge.