The local, Florida zoo on Halloween hosts trick-or-treating for the children at its annual Zoo Boo. The park is decorated like a scary swamp, complete with ghouls and goblins. On such a night, years past, a visitor was videotaping an orangutan mother holding her young. The light of the camera shining directly in the baby’s eyes startled and upset the orangutan mom. Her haunting, high-pitched screams – sounding exactly like a woman – froze everyone in their tracks.
One matter on which all anthropologists agree is that at some unknown date millions of years ago, apes diverged into two distinct evolutionary lines. The Pongidae group consists of chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan and gibbon. The Hominidal group members being made up of Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Orangutans and humans share 97% of the same DNA.
Humans have a larger number of features uniquely shared with orangutans than any other living ape. – Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz
Primatologist, Dr. van Schaick of Duke University, described two dozen behaviors present in orangutan groups that are absent in other primates. According to the report, these practices are learned and passed down through generations. For example: Orangutans have been observed to use handfuls of leaves as napkins, wiping leftovers from their chins and using them to handle spiny fruit or as seat cushions.
Buffalo Museum of Science states other facts of similarities in orangutans to humans: have opposable thumbs, can walk upright, mate in the face to face position a majority of the time and have the ability to separate sex for enjoyment from just a reproductive function. The criteria to determine the last finding wasn’t specified.
Ten thousand years ago, orangutans were found throughout Southeast Asia ranging into Southern China. Indigenous people of Indonesia and Malaysia call this ape ‘Orang Hutan.’ The name translated means “people of the forest.” In time past the natives would not kill orangutans believing them to be people hiding in the trees to avoid work or becoming slaves.
Orangutans today are one of the most critically endangered great apes. Based on the World Bank’s estimation, an optimistic prediction gives wild orangutans ten more years before extinction.
Organic Consumers Association reports palm oil in food and cosmetics contribute to the orangutan demise. Palm oil, a vegetable oil can be found in one of every ten products on grocery store shelves. Ninety per cent of the world’s palm oil exports come from plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Only remaining habitat for the orangutan, the largest tree living mammal in the world, are the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Most of the forest, where the female orangutan rarely descend from the canopy, has been harvested for the production of palm oil.
Tonda, whose age is somewhere in the mid-forties, lost her mate and also a zest for life. Before his passing she had enjoyed fruit salads and painting with water colors. After his death she took to dragging around a security blanket and mainly spent her days underneath it. No, she isn’t a widowed member of the Garden Club but the lone Sumatran Orangutan at Zoo World, Panama City Beach, Florida.
Zoo keepers unable at Tonda’s age to find a suitable companion for her found a replacement comfort. She now has her own pet. An orange colored cat named T.K.- short for Tonda’s Kitty. You rarely see them apart and caring for another really perked the old girl up. Orangutans have been known to live to age 60 in captivity.
In the midst of taking the photos for this article, another visitor to the zoo was loudly talking baby talk to Tonda, who was trying to eat her dinner in peace as she glanced around for T.K. Wonder if this intrusion got on her nerves as much as mine.