53 thoughts on “Tool use by a hot orangutan

    1. Yeah, but you could say the same thing about the way I wash myself. I didn’t figure it out from first principles either.

    2. When I saw this on the local news yesterday, whatever site they were at said that it was something that a visitor had accidentally dropped, and presumably this was the first time she had seen it.

      1. not buying that this would be the first time that particular orang has seen A towel or washcloth though.

        sure looks like mimicked behavior to me.

        too many small mannerisms for it to have been an entirely novel, instantly learned behavior.

  1. I’m confused — the orang doesn’t seem particularly attractive to me.

    What really got me was not the orang using a wet cloth, or even that the orang wetted it before using it — it was the wringing out the cloth that was very eerily human-like.

    1. OTOH, her refusal to share the washcloth or to wipe off the juvenile orang seemed eerily unhuman. I can’t imagine not wiping a child’s face, particularly if (as seems likely here) it’s a close relation.

      1. OTOH, one wouldn’t relinguish the towel – one wouldn’t allow the child to feel that it was entitled to just take it – if one were in the middle of using it.

      2. Selfishness as eerily inhuman? You have to be kidding me. I wish I had a nickel for every second-rate parent who would do exactly this to their child.

        1. Heck you say. Second rate!? You don’t give your kid everything he wants, as soon as he wants it. Even if you COULD do that, it wouldn’t be good for him. You don’t go around saying no just for the fun of it, but, as a previous poster mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with saying “I’m using it right now, you have to wait your turn!”

          1. Perhaps I didn’t express my thought very well. What I meant by “second-rate parent” was someone who would selfishly (and routinely) withhold something good (in this case the cool, damp cloth) from the child rather than share it.

            Of course I don’t think a child should get everything he or she “demands”… That’d be a recipe for spoiled brat, obviously.

      1. Also, wiping off the stone was cool at around the 1:59 mark. As far as not giving the washcloth to the younger orang I don’t think we’re seeing the whole story (like ages, relationships, behavioral cues, etc.)

  2. At the Houston Zoo, many chimpanzees carry around blankets and towels to keep themselves warm when they are outside on a cold day in winter. They will sit with the blanket wrapped around their head and body and then carry it with them when they move. One juvenile even found a low spot and would sit in it with the blanket over the dip so it was nearly completely protected from the wind.

    1. To play nice, for a change, I have never noticed that Orangs were being given short shrift. They are clearly intelligent. Just a little more laid back than the other apes.

      1. Ben Goren is correct. Until relatively recently, say 15 y ago or so, orangu’tans were considered by psychologists & anthropologists to be not very bright & primitive compared to their “more complex” relatives, Pan & Homo. I may be mistaken, but, as I recall, cognitive research (by Benjamin Beck?) @Smithsonian’s National Zoo provided the first confident evidence of orangu’tans’ ability to solve multi-factorial problems in laboratory environments. Note that, like most mammals, orangu’tans are solitary. This trait among others led to prejudice against them. A good introduction to orangu’tans is Peter Rodman’s dated but still very useful chapter in the edited volume, Primate Societies (Smuts et al., 1987, Univ. of Chicago Press).

    1. Does it really matter if it’s learned behavior or imitated?

      well, an imitated behavior IS a learned behavior, but yes, it does matter if it is mimicked or novel behavior, with regards to how we classify the learning potential overall.

  3. That was magnificent!!!! Especially the wringing.

    Somewhere I read about a chimp that hid a tool for later use in a successful escape from a zoo cage…will try to find the link.

  4. Tulse – I didn’t think the orangutan was all that hot, either. I guess I’m more of a gibbon man, myself.

  5. I just remembered the capuchin monkeys that live in the town of Mishualli, near where I live. These monkeys have been seen to pick up big stones to smash nuts and other foods. They also know which townspeople are mean to them, and communicate this to each other, so they all attack someone who has been mean to one of them. They sleep under the eaves of people’s roofs. Here is a tourist video of one of them:


    There is a brief snippet of stone use by these Mishualli capuchins just after 4:29 in this video:

    1. In my behavior, there is nothing “very cool” or even approximately “cool” about this and similar anthropomorphic aberrations. I consider such behavioral enhancement to be abuse and contrary to enlightened and ethical treatment of animals (non-human or otherwise).

        1. Depends if the orang learned it himself by watching people, as I had assumed. It looks like a zoo, people throw stuff in the cages. Of course, the whole idea of sticking intelligent great apes in cages is sick in itself.

  6. Agree with others that the wringing out of the towel is most striking. Take away the rest of the body and some of the hair, ignore the slight differences in hand shape, and you’ve got yourself a human.

    1. Exactly. It defies my belief that anyone could watch this and cling to the myth that we’re (humans and orangs) not related.


      1. 1. These sorts of anthropomorphic projections leave me sad, frustrated, and awestruck. I suppose it is fruitless to attempt to persuade observers of the depicted and similar behaviors to think critically about them, to consider alternative hypotheses, and to refrain from prior assumptions about the motor patterns’ mechanisms & functions.
        2. Tversky & Khanneman’s (sp?) idea of “functional fixedness” combined with propositions by behavioral ecologists and, earlier, behaviorists may facilitate possible explanations of the depicted action patterns. The former theory discusses when and under what conditions brain schemas may prevent the organism from utilizing properties for functions other than those originally intended (one of their examples is the screwdriver). The latter two disciplines noted that there are only a few possible responses permitted to an organism in a given condition. It might be considered that a rag provides the organism with a limited number of ways that it might be manipulated, etc., etc. [e.g., that the physical properties of the material (however defined) combined with physical and other constraints of the organism impose limits upon how the object/event can be manipulated]. One might be curious about differential tendencies of organisms to explore their environments; however, this is another set of questions.

        1. p.s. When I was a graduate student, a significant body of work by physiological psychologists was conducted on the limbic system, in particular, the reticular activating system (RAS). Now that cognitive psychology and neuroscience have swamped that disclipine and others, “higher-order” processes dominate (e.g., frontal cortex communicating & amygdala communication). I speculate that a renewed study of RAS & related structures/networks would reveal important influences of these tissues upon “higher functions” (and vice versa).

          1. Have you ever lived with an intelligent animal like a good smart dog, or spent much time with smart animals in the wild? Your anthropocentricity leaves me sad, frustrated, and awestruck.

        2. Clara, did you look at the link in my Comment #8? Look especially at the chimp that pees into the tube to raise the water level in order to get the floating food. I seriously doubt that he learned this behavior by watching the experimenters!!!!

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