A male Sumatran orangutan challenges a rival by baring his teeth and shaking branches. Now recognized as a distinct species, Sumatran orangutans number around 14,000 in the wild.
The below article is one of the best short articles I have read in a long time about the trials and tribulations of doing research on orangutans. While reading it, I was struck by the similarity between what orangutan researchers put up with and what bigfoot field researchers deal with, and what professionals biologists will have to deal with after species recognition. Long excursions to desolate locations, listening for howls and calls to locate the creatures, and difficulty visually observing the animals are all commonalities while doing field work on these elusive and solitary apes.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve chosen the most difficult thing in the world to study,”
– Cheryl Knott, biological anthropologist
I’m sure it feels like this to Cheryl Knott, but bigfoot research after the species is recognized by science will be even harder. Like orangutans, sasquatches seem to live mostly solitarly lives, or if they do travel in groups, they do so at a distance from one another. Orangutans also have large territories and wander widely, but being a terrestrial species rather than the arboreal orangutans, sasquatch range would be much larger, and they would move much faster.
Keep these challenges in mind as you read the below article. Also, note the behavioral similarities between sasquatches and orangutans, such as the long calls and pushing down of trees in territorial displays. Articles like this leave me wondering about what unknown sasquatch behaviors they share with orangutans and the other apes that are waiting to be observed.
Inside the Private Lives of Orangutans
Scientists are gaining vital insights into the red apes at a time when they face a precarious future.
By Mel White
Photographs and Videos by Tim Laman
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve chosen the most difficult thing in the world to study,” Cheryl Knott tells me as we sit beneath the rain forest canopy at her orangutan research station in western Borneo. The high-pitched, dental-drill sound of cicadas fills the air, at times forcing us to pause our conversation. As we talk, Knott’s associates are at work in the surrounding forest of Indonesia’s Gunung Palung National Park with GPS units and iPads, following orangutans in their daily wanderings, recording what they’re doing, what they’re eating, and how they’re interacting with others of their species.
Unlike gorillas and chimpanzees—fellow great apes that live in groups and can be followed and observed relatively easily—orangutans live mostly solitary lives. They spend nearly all their time in the treetops, they wander widely, and for the most part they inhabit rugged forest or swampy lowland that’s hard for humans to traverse. As a result, orangutans long remained among the least known of Earth’s large land animals. Only during the past 20 years or so has scientific evidence begun to outweigh speculation as a new generation of researchers has tracked the elusive apes across the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, the only places orangutans live.
An interesting news item caught my attention this week. Apparently, an orangutan in the Indianapolis Zoo has learned to repeat and mimic the pitch of open vowel sounds. This shows that great apes have the capacity to learn to control their muscles to deliberately alter pitch and shape of the sounds they make. This would be a necessary precursor to having language ability.
It is already well established that some individual great apes can think and communicate using symbols. Koko the gorilla that uses sign language is the best known example of this. The discovery of an ape that mimics conversational tones is another interesting tidbit in our uncovering the mysteries of our greatest gift that seems to separate us from our more hirsute cousins, the use of language.
There are some excellent observations of sasquatches seemingly talking to one another in what seems to be more of a language than mere animal noises. One witness from the Oregon Coast described to me what seemed to her like a language that mixed phonemes from Southeast Asia and the Native tribes of Southeastern Alaska (she had experience with both the Vietnamese language, as well as the language used by the Haida people from Prince Edward Island). Interestingly, she noted that there were clicks and pops in the vocal chattering that reminded her of the Bushman, or Khoisan, language. These sounds were articulated by two distinct voices in what seemed like a conversation.
It is possible that sasquatches are just muttering to one another with no meaning behind the sounds, but I find this unlikely. The two creatures bouncing their mutterings back and forth strongly suggest some sort of conversation. It makes sense to me that since sasquatches are so human-like, they have some eerily human similarities, such as language, or at least a proto-language.
The orangutan in the Indianapolis zoo is showing us, once again, the amazing abilities of great apes. They are not so different than us, and indeed show us what we once were sort of like millions of years ago. It’s akin to looking at a child and seeing us as individuals in a less-developed state. There is no lack of love or compassion in our view of children, so there should be no less in our view of apes from our species’ perspective.
To understand what Rocky did, imagine if you meowed at your cat and it was able to mimic you completely. You start out in a high-pitch voice and then your cat surprises you by responding with the same high-pitch call. And then when you drop into a Barry White voice, your cat responds with its own seductively deep meow to match.
An Orangutan’s Mimicry Offers Clues to Language’s Origins
Orangutan hear, orangutan do.
Researchers at the Indianapolis Zoo observed an orangutan mimic the pitch and tone of human sounds, for the first time. The finding, which was published Wednesday, provides insight into the evolutionary origin of human speech, the team said.
“It really redefines for us what we know about the capabilities of orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, director of the zoo and an author on the paper. “What we have to consider now is the possibility that the origins of spoken language are not exclusively human, and that they may have come from great apes.”
Rocky, an 11-year-old orangutan at the zoo, has a special ability. He can make sounds using his vocal folds, or voice box, that resemble the vowel “A,” and sound like “Ah.” The noises, or “wookies” as the researchers called them, are variations of the same vocalization.
Sometimes the great ape would say high-pitched “wookies” and sometimes he would say his “Ahs” in a lower pitch.
The researchers note that the sounds are specific to Rocky and ones that he used everyday. No other orangutan, captive or wild, made these noises. Rocky, who had never lived in the rain forest, apparently learned the skill during his time as an entertainment orangutan before coming to the zoo. He was at one point the most seen orangutan in movies and commercials,according to the zoo.
The Orang Pendek Project has been an amazing project to work on, but it has not been without its setbacks and frustrations. Some of these frustrations arise from incomplete documentation or lost data. After all, the project spans three continents and two languages. That’s not even to mention the cultural differences that sometimes cause confusion or other complications.
This cast is a great example of these complications. There was a track investigation on July 14, 2013, and several photographs of a footprint in the ground were recorded that day. The cast seen above came with the bundle of data sent by my Sumatran contact that serves as a middle-man. However, the cast cannot be from the footprint pictured in the ground; it’s the wrong foot!
We apparently have some missing data somewhere, but I will still record this footprint as from the date above. Perhaps it is another footprint from the same line of prints? Perhaps it’s from another date altogether? I do not know, and am unlikely to ever know. I do know that as the project proceeds, the documentation is getting better and better. Hopefully this sort of error will be avoided in the future.
I present the data, fuzzy as it may be, for your enjoyment.
Arno the Sumatran orangutan looking in the direction he will be travelling in while vocalizing. (AP Photo/Perry van Duijnhoven)
Sasquatch vocalizations have been recorded from all over North America, but very little is known about what the creatures are actually communicating, or why they are doing so. Perhaps now some light might be shed on this interesting question by studying another ape, the orangutan.
Researchers have now correlated the calls of male Sumatran orangutans with their directions of travel. They observed females repositioning themselves to be closer to the male’s line of travel, and also non-dominant males moving out of the way of the dominant males heading their way.
Could this behavior help bigfoot researchers intercept a sasquatch on the move? It just might be possible, though extensive experimentation will be needed. These experiments would be extremely difficult for a huge variety of reasons, such as one would have to know the direction the bigfoot was facing when it vocalized, and there are precious few observations of bigfoots vocalizing without it being observed.
Orangutans Share Trip Plans a Day Before Leaving SEP 11, 2013 05:00 PM ET // BY JENNIFER VIEGAS
Orangutans not only plan their travel routes in advance, but they also inform others about their trip a day ahead of time.
This very human-like behavior implies other things about orangutans.
“Our study makes it clear that wild orangutans do not simply live in the here and now, but can imagine a future and even announce their plans,” primatologist Carel van Schaeik of the University of Zurich, who conducted the study, was quoted as saying in a press release.
If you are a fan of apes, then you probably have heard about the famous albino gorilla, Snowflake. He was euthanized in 2003 to alleviate his suffering from skin cancer, but recently some genetic tests were done on his remains that found the most likely cause of his rare albinism was inbreeding.
For some time now, it has been a concern among bigfoot researchers that perhaps human development has cut off populations of bigfoots from one another thus forcing them to breed with their own kin. Often held as evidence of this hypothesis is the prevalence of three-toed footprints. I would disagree that footprints showing three or four toes indicates inbreeding, though. I think that these footprints either strongly illustrate the flexibility of the sasquatch foot, or are the results of outright hoaxes. However, perhaps the prevalence of albino bigfoot sightings might be an indicator of inbreeding, especially in the light of the above revelation about Snowflake?
“Pinkie” and a friend at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sancuary
A quick search using John Green’s excellent (and searchable) online database indicated that there were 99 reports of white or off-white bigfoots on record. Certainly, many of these sightings are reporting the same individual bigfoot having been seen multiple times in a certain area. Also to consider is that Green’s database includes sightings from many decades.
To explore the possibility of albinism being an indicator or possible inbreeding by bigfoots, I undertook a thought experiment. I plotted Green’s white bigfoot reports on a Google Maps layer, and then tried to attribute the sightings to individual bigfoots. I took into consideration the sighting locations, their proximity and connectivity via mountain ranges and river systems, the years the bigfoots were spotted combined with the life expectancy of apes, and some size estimates as well (bigfoots would obviously not get smaller as time passed, so strongly differing size estimates where the creature got smaller over time were attributed to multiple individuals). I color coded the sightings in a way to show what I think might be reasonable to show the same individuals showing up in various locations.
A map showing sighting reports for white bigfoots
I admit that the above process is pretty speculative, but it gave some interesting results. I have plotted encounters with over thirty white bigfoots since 1955 (there was one outlier from 1938). It is very possible that some of the sightings I attributed to more than one individual are actually the same bigfoot with either a longer lifespan than I used as a base, or with a stronger wanderlust than I expected. So, to be more conservative in my estimates, I will cut this estimated number by more than half to just fifteen.
Albanism is pretty rare in any species, but in great apes it is extremely rare. In humans, about 0.0059% (1 in 17,000) of the population has albinism. However in the other great apes, the only known examples are Snowflake the gorilla and Pinkie the chimpanzee, both of whom are now dead. (Certainly there either are other albino individuals in the wild, or have been in the past, but I”ll ignore this for our purposes.)
Snowflake casting the camera a sidelong glance.
Looking at the population estimates of the the three great ape species with documented albinism might give us some vague insight into whether or not this could be an indicator of inbreeding in bigfoots. Using the numbers for humans (1 in 17,000), the 15 individual bigfoots hypothesized above would give a population of bigfoots as around 255,000. This is clearly way off the chart as far as a reasonable population estimate for bigfoots.
Using the other apes gives us no better estimate for bigfoots, as albinism is even rarer in those species. The world populations estimated are 100,000 to 200,000 for chimpanzees, and an estimated 100,000 for the lowland gorilla (the species Snowflake was). There are no known examples of albino mountain gorillas nor orangutans. Again, using 15 individual bigfoots and applying the population numbers for other apes, the calculations yield over a million bigfoots. Obviously way too many for an obviously rare species.
I suppose it is possible that albinism is more common in bigfoots than in any other species of great ape, but this seems unlikely. Also possible is that my numbers are way off due to incorrect speculation on my part, hoaxing or misidentification on the part of witnesses, or any number of errors. Also to consider would be these “white” bigfoots actually being of the more blonde variety which would be far more common, or even that bigfoot hair turns increasingly more grey or white as they grow older as humans do. However, I also believe that not all witnesses who have seen white bigfoots have reported them, further confusing the matter.
From my efforts to reverse engineer a reasonable bigfoot population estimate from the number of white bigfoot sightings, it seems that these individuals are being seen way too often to indicate a normal ratio of albinos in their population. It seems that there are way too many individual bigfoots with albinism than there should be.
I see no way around the idea that inbreeding could possibly be affecting the bigfoot population. Inbreeding seemed reasonable even before this thought experiment due to the species’ rarity, as well as the possibility of human development cutting off breeding populations. If my assumption that bigfoot genetics generally should follow the same pattern as the other apes (including humans) is correct, even one albino bigfoot report should be extremely rare, and there are dozens of sightings describing white bigfoots.
As always, seeking answers about bigfoots yields more questions than answers.
This Mother’s Day, join JGI in honoring Tchimpounga’s resident “surrogate chimp mom,” La Vieille! As one of Tchimpounga’s oldest residents, La Vieille has a very special role to play at the sanctuary. She spends her time helping Tchimpounga’s new arrivals learn how to socialize with other chimps and gain independence from their human caregivers. Though the young chimps sometimes like to pester her, La Vieille remains a dedicated, protective guardian. Click here to donate to the Jane Goodall Institute.
If gorillas are capable of this, and juvenile gorillas at that, how much more capable would a sasquatch be at detecting game cams, hunting blinds, and all the other oh-so-clever contraptions we seek them out with? Enjoy the article!
Gorilla Youngsters Seen Dismantling Poachers’ Traps—A First
Just days after a poacher’s snare had killed one of their own, two youngmountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in theirRwandan forest home, according to conservationists on the scene.
One commonly-used field technique for bigfooting is call blasting. Back in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, this was usually done with loudspeakers and amplifiers hooked up to CD players. The most common calls used were the Tahoe Scream (there is no public source for this recording) and the Ohio Howl.
While John Frietas is often recognized as the godfather of call blasting, it was Roger Patterson himself that tried this method first to my knowledge. He not only recreated bigfoot sounds by yelling into church bells (to add resonance), but he also blasted calls off of a tower on a property in Tampico, WA.
Call blasting sounds purportedly made by bigfoots brings a number of questions with it. First of all, how does one know the sounds are bigfoot sounds unless somebody saw the creature make the noise? Even if the recordings are in fact bigfoot sounds, what are the bigfoots saying? After all, they could be saying, “Stay away! There’s a human here!”
One interesting question that has arisen is if bigfoots have regional accents. Would a Southern bigfoot (possibly with a drawl?) answer or ignore one of its Yankee brethren? Would a Midwest bigfoot shun or welcome a Canadian sasquatch’s greeting? I would hope that bigfoots would be above stereotyping based on accents…
I ran across this article that brings to light a precedence of regional accents in primates. Sure, these are gibbons and not bigfoots, but if one ape species has this characteristic, perhaps others do. After all, humans have accents…
The gibbons studied live in the rainforests of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and China. “Each gibbon has its own variable song but, much like people, there is a regional similarity between gibbons within the same location,” said lead researcher Van Ngoc Thinh. (Source: UPI.com) (Their study was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.)
Gibbon songs are made to travel over long distances in thickly vegetated areas by having a single frequency. It was found the songs that were most similar came from species that genetically were very closely related. Identifying gibbons by their songs is easier than by genetics because obtaining physical samples is difficult, whereas the songs are constantly being emitted and can be heard from some distance. Also, the songs can help identify where the gibbons are from, sort of like regional accents for humans.
Anytime I hear about apes doing things that only humans are supposed to do, it catches my attention. Clearly the reason is my interest in sasquatches, and my quest to understand them more than I do now (a life-long quest that will never be completed, I’m sure).
I’ve always thought that the debate about whether bigfoots are apes or humans is not a worthy argument to engage in. Humans are apes. Special apes, I admit, but apes nonetheless. In fact, all the apes are special in my mind, and bigfoots are included in that assessment. The question should be how human-like are bigfoots. I suspect they are very much like humans, probably far more so than most folks would be comfortable with.
But I digress…
I saw this article about a particular bonobo that figured out how to use fire for cooking. I found that interesting, but the last few paragraphs of the article are the ones that really made me want to post it to the blog. Here are some of those paragraphs:
“This isn’t the first time apes have displayed uniquely human behavior. The report “Spontaneous Prosocial Choice By Chimpanzees,” published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the primates are as cooperative as humans, especially when their partners are patient with them.
Bonobos are also known as pygmy or dwarf chimpanzees, and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List due in large part to poaching.
According to the Daily Mail report, this is the first time a bonobo ape has developed this skill, which Dr Savage-Rumbaugh, of the Great Ape Trust, links to early human development.
“When humans learned to control fire and to domesticate dogs we began to feel a new level of safety which freed us to become creative and to create more sophisticated cultures,” Savage-Rumbaugh told the Daily Mail.
Kanzi’s skills have also transcended food groups: not only can he cook hamburgers in a pan over the fire, but he can roast marshmallows at the end of a stick, too.
Orangutans are now an endangered species, mostly due to habitat destruction. One of the species’ last refuges is on the island of Borneo. There are an estimated 3000 to 4500 orangutans live on the island, and these apes are constantly at the mercy of the three countries’ governments that hold power over the island. When a species’ survival depends on the wisdom of government, especially three third-worldgovernments, those are some bleak prospects for their future.
The topography of Borneo
However, apes are amazing things. People strongly underestimate them, referring to them as “dumb apes” or “monkeys” without an understanding of their intelligence, stealth, and kinship with ourselves. They can literally live under our noses without being detected, as the sasquatches have done successfully forever now. Every once in a while a new ape species, or an unknown population of a known ape species, is stumbled upon. This very thing recently happened, and it is good news indeed.
A pocket of orangutans was discovered where none had been known to exist before. There are approximately 200 individuals in this area, and they were found to be there by their nests they left behind. The below article discusses this further, but when reading it consider a few things. The population was discovered by the signs they left behind. We have those same signs left behind by sasquatches. The local people already knew that the orangutans were there, it was the scientists that were oblivious. This is also true of the sasquatch. And finally, the governments are now considering protecting the population by forming new national parks, or in other words, they are protecting the land so the apes can use it. If we in North America protect the land, we protect the sasquatch. That’s “conservation before discovery” at its core.
Enjoy the article:
Secret Population of Orangutans Found
By Live Science Staff | LiveScience.com
A population of 200 of the world’s rarest orangutans was found tucked away in the forests of the island of Borneo, according to theWildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
All subspecies of Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. But scientists estimate just 3,000 to 4,500 individuals are left in the subspecies known as Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus, making them the most severely threatened.
Two-thousand of those live in the Malaysian state of Sarawak inBatang Ai National Park and Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary, researchers say. The previously unknown population was found by conservationists near the Batang park, in an area covering about 54 square miles (140 square kilometers).