How do orangutans behave?

Orangutans spend their tranquil lives feeding on fruit, navigating through the dense forest canopy and socialising with other orangutans. They are extraordinarily intelligent tool-users that solve problems with ease, but their existence is peaceful and play is an important part of this ape’s harmonious life.

An orangutan may spend up to half of each day feeding on fruit, vegetation and small invertebrates. When going in search of a meal, they can choose to forage by swinging effortlessly through trees, drop down to the forest floor or hang upside down from their feet to reach a tasty morsel from a lower branch. Alternatively they can conserve their precious energy sit and wait for juicy insects to cross their path. Orangutans see in colour to help them distinguish coloured fruit from the leafy green background or spot cleverly camouflaged creepy crawlies.

Orangutans live in forests, where their daily activities begin at sunrise. An hour before sunset is an orangutan’s bed time, so they will build a nest in which to sleep. Even if the previous night’s nest is in perfect condition an orangutan will always build a new one in which to spend the coming night. Unlike chimpanzees that sleep in nests on the ground, orangutans sleep safely and soundly high up in the trees, and a good night’s sleep improves their memory and ability to learn the following day.

While male orangutans lead solitary lives, females and juveniles live in playful groups. Play is important for youngsters to practice skills they will need when they eventually leave their mothers. An infant orangutan will stay with its mother until the age of four, and then may join a gang of teenage orangutans to practice the life skills learned as an youngster. Orangutans communicate through an immense range of gestures, signals and vocalizations.

It is difficult for researchers to identify the exact meaning behind this behaviour as there are so many subtle gestures that could mean any number of things. This demonstrates exactly how intelligent orangutans are, as they have an entire language of their own we can’t decode.

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