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Sumatra Orangutans

INDONESIA | Saturday, 5 November 2011 | Views [597]

Sumatran Orangu-tans…


The zoo in Bukkitingi in Sumatra, Indonesia was not one of the better zoos I’ve visited around the world, but also not one of the worst. With the mandatory bottle of water tucked under my arm, eating monkey peanuts (the type with the shell still on), I stopped to take a closer look at the magnificent orangutans. A female at one end of the cage and the majestic male at the other end, I stood in front of the female on the far left and observed her closely. Her human like mannerisms convinced me even more of the theory of evolution.


This was confirmed even further when she moved toward the front of the cage and put her delicate, yet hairy hand toward me through the bars of the cage. Her black coloured nails curled softly up as she held her open palm towards me. Her fingers were long and thin with each knuckle joint showing through her dark skin, not unlike my own pale skinned fingers.


I was surprised but more so curious as to what she wanted from me. I looked from left to right to see if anyone else saw what was happening. There were two other people looking on, both with just as much intrigue in their expression as I had.


Wondering if she wanted my water I did a quick scan of the cage to see if she had any. There was none visible. Or did she want the peanuts? I offered her the peanuts first and she withdrew her hand. When she put her hand back out I offered her the water bottle. Now I know the general zoo rule of do not feed the animals but being in a developing country zoo and it being water I didn’t think it could do too much harm.


She took it very gently from my hand and guarded it with her body. She then moved to the middle of the cage and took small regular sips. She seemed to enjoy the taste as though it had been a while. A few moments later she moved toward me again and whilst holding the bottle in one hand she offered me her open palm once more. Afraid she might grab my hand, I carefully dropped a number of peanuts into her open palm. I held my hand high enough to be able to give me space to pull it away if she tried to grab me. She quickly, yet gently closed her hand and moved back again in the cage.


By this time more people had stopped by interested to see what was happening. As I looked around at the crowd gathering I noticed the male swoop down through the cage. His stretched out arms looked like massive hairy wings. My first thought was that he would snatch the water bottle and peanuts from her. Instead he stopped briefly to see what she had then he thrust his massive body toward me. With only the cage bars between us he stopped and gently put his hand out through the bars to ask for the same. His hand was twice as big as his female counterpart.


I didn’t have any more water so even more cautiously I placed another handful of peanuts in his outstretched palm. He crouched down at the front of the cage, maybe to be first in line if anything else was offered. He put the handful of peanuts in his mouth all at once and one by one the shells were spat out on to the ground. When he was satisfied with his treat he moved to the middle of the cage and climbed up high on the branch-like bar.


With the female in the back carefully shelling and eating her peanuts and taking little sips of the water, the male looked up at me lifting his big lips to show me his gums lined with the shelled nuts, smiling, as if to say thank-you.


If these magnificent creatures were able to ask me with spoken words for the water or peanuts I would have to wonder if I was looking in the mirror as there was very little difference between myself and the orangutans. I think Darwin was onto something….


Karen Hofman

Tags: orangutans, sumatra

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