Orangutans are unique. Contrary to other Great Apes, orangutans live in solitude. This over does not mean they are without social relationships (Anon 2003). They are found exclusively in Asia. Their diet consists of fruit and one species of orangutan eat leaves and bark when fruit is scarce (Russon 2009). The orangutan was first thought to be lazy and less intelligent than their African counterpart; however, living in solitude and being slow moving does not mean they are less intelligent than other apes (Schaik 2003).
Orangutans are believed to be descendants of the ape Gigantopithecus which lived in Asia and went extinct around 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus is thought to be the largest ape to have ever existed, doubled the weight of gorillas. There are two species of Orangutans; Pongo pygmaeus which live in Borneo and Pongo abelii which live in Sumatra. Within the Borneo orangutans three subspecies exist (Russon 2009). Both of these species were classified as a single species until the 1990’s when research was finally being conducted on the orangutans. Because of isolation on different islands, it is believed that the two species split off around 2.3 to 1.1million years ago. Unique only to the orangutan, they are covered in red hair. Orangutans mostly live in trees; using branches or pole vaulting their way around the forest (Russon 2009). Even though orangutans are adapted for life on trees, they are as intelligent. Culture was discovered in orangutans as well as instances of deception. Orangutans use tools, they solve problems, and they can learn a behavior and teach it to others (Schaik 2003).
Research was not conducted on the orangutan before the 1990’s because researchers believed they were dull, lazy, and not intelligent. It was later found out by studies that Orangutans are slow moving not because they are lazy but because they require such an enormous amount of calories just to live that they don’t waste their precious energy (Russon 2009). The orangutans live in solitude because they are such large creatures that require a large amount of fruit just to survive. Orangutans have large bodies with a large brain as well; meaning just to maintain itself the orangutan must search for food on average 50 to 60% of the day (Russon 2009). Orangutans live in overlapping space meaning they receive social interactions from time to time. The main permanent pairing is that of mother and child (Schaik 2003).
Humans were first thought to be the only animal in the world that possesses culture. This is turned on its head when research on ape culture turned up results. There are four cultural aspects; labels, signals, skills, and symbols (Anon 2003). Orangutans, along with the chimpanzee, have a three of these culture features; only lacking in one in comparison to humans. This aspect is the use of unambiguous symbolic elements, which requires cognitive ability that is beyond that of any nonhuman primate (Schaik 2003). Examples of the use of symbols are language, signs, and abstract thinking such as mathematics and philosophy. The most notable aspect of the orangutan’s culture is its material culture. Material culture is the use of tools and being able to teach the tool making to the rest of the population. Besides humans, orangutans and chimpanzee are the only known primates with a material culture meaning that this aspect came from a common ancestor shared by all great apes about 14 million years ago (Anon 2003).