Episode 41 – Orangutan: The Forest People of Borneo

“And today we are talking about a large primate with orange hair whose bellowing can be heard for great distances… even without twitter.”


Life in the rain forests of Borneo may seem like a peaceful existence in paradise, but finding food and shelter requires the right tools and the brains to use them. It’s a good thing that the forest’s largest tree dwelling mammal has one of the largest proportional brains in the animal kingdom. But how do they use that advantage to survive 100 feet above the forest floor? These apes are truly living the high Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Music: Arcadia – Wonders by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100326

Musical Artist: http://incompetech.com/

Artwork: xnamaru

Measure Up

Height – Bornean orangutans can stand between 3.9 and 4.6 ft – average 4.2 ft (128 cm) – How many orangutan go into the thickness of the earth’s atmosphere? (300 miles) Hint: Because the atmosphere gets thinner as you get higher, the majority of the atmosphere is in the first 10 miles above the surface. Answer: 377,143 tangs

Conservation status – Orangutan are critically endangered and there are estimated to be only 100,000 individuals left in the wild – How many of the number of average violin strings in a symphony orchestra go into the population of orangutans? (128) Hint: The Bornean orangutan population declined by 60% in the past 60 years. Answer: 781 string groups

Tool Use

Orangutans are among the most intelligent mammals

Next to chips, they are among the most intelligent primates

In the wild and in captivity, they have been observed using tools in sophisticated ways

Tool use can be spontaneous, and unique to individuals. There can also be specific tools seen across regional cultures. They learn from each other. They will use branches to scratch their backs. Fish fruit and branches that are out of reach. They use leaves to wipe their face. They through branches and fruit in agonistic displays. They build rain hats and ponchos out of broad leaves to keep out of the rain. One female was observed building a nest structure to bridge a narrow river.

An ongoing study in the Tanjung Puting Reserve in Indonesia, studied tool use in forest born, and ex-captive apes.

Forest born orangutans mainly use tools in agonistic displays and for nesting. Ex-captive apes use tools in a wider variety of settings. Sticks are commonly used. They can also use human tools like rags, spoons, cups, shovels, knives, hoes, rope, boats and rafts. Videos even show orangutans washing clothes, sawing wood, and rowing canoes with their hands.

Learning capability from observation is strong. Orangutans spend years learning from their mothers. Long bonding and learning period compared to other mammals. Up to 10 years.


*Crying out into the wind*

Joe: Alright! We’ve done it! We’ve covered you in an episode, Vespasian! Is this what you wanted?!

Carlos: Yes! Show yourself and lead us out of this infernal neverending wilderness!

Joe: Look! Up on that ridge. There he is!

Carlos: He’s gesturing something. Can you make it out?

Joe: It looks like he’s saying… There is no escape from the space between… You must keep covering the things unseen… From lyrebirds to the wolverine… When reviews reach 117… Then you may leave the unending green…

Carlos: He knows how to rhyme in sign language?

Joe: Wait, what does that mean!?

Carlos: And there he goes… well, that was cryptic.

Joe: It appears we’re stuck here until we get more reviews.

Carlos: Yeah, this mystical jungle seems very oddly tied to our podcast analytics.

Joe: I guess we need 117 reviews, which listeners can leave on itunes and other podcasting apps to show their appreciation for the show. Then maybe we can get out of here.

Carlos: Only one way to find out. Now come on, let’s see if we can find out more about that lyrebird. That sounded interesting!