Orangutan News: Study Shows that Orangutan can Produce Faux Speech

Photo: courtesy of Adriano Lameira, University of Amsterdam

Photo: courtesy of Adriano Lameira, University of Amsterdam

by Shari Rudavsky for INDYSTAR.com

Think we humans are so special because we have the ability to speak, using specific sounds to denote different meanings?

Well, maybe we’re not so special.

An Indianapolis Zoo researcher, working with a lead author from the University of Amsterdam, has found that at least one orangutan living in captivity can produce both consonant and vowel sounds at a rapid rate that while unintelligible to the human ear qualifies as “faux speech.”

“It’s remarkable that we’re finding an orangutan that’s producing that stream of sounds that matches what humans do,” said Rob Shumaker, the Indianapolis Zoo’s vice president of Conservation, Science and Education.

The study appeared earlier this month in the online journal Plos One.

Primatologists have long believed that while a few great apes have been taught to use sign language, humans remained the only species with the physical flexibility to control and change their vocal sounds to communicate. When primates made sounds, it was thought, these noises were basically reflexive, involuntary responses, not deliberate ones.

Now, a 50-year-old orangutan named Tilda has turned those assumptions on end.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of INDYSTAR.com and can be read in its entirety here.

Dr. Rob Shumaker is a Board member of the Orangutan Conservancy.

posted by: Tom


Conservation Commentary: What’s Good for People Is Good for Orangutans

Photo Courtesy of Nardiyono

Photo Courtesy of Nardiyono

by Erik Meijaard/The Jakarta Globe

As if life isn’t hard enough already for the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra. Hammered by loss of their forest habitat and outright killing, they now face an additional man-made threat.

New research published in the journal Global Change Biology and in a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has mapped areas of Borneo that could be affected by climate or land-cover changes this century, finding that up to 74 percent of present-day orangutan habitat could become unsuitable for this endangered species.

The study, led by scientists at the University of Kent and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany, discovered that from an estimated 260,000 square kilometers of Bornean orangutan habitat in 2010, 63 percent could become climatically unsuitable by 2080, but when also considering the effects of deforestation, up to 74 percent of habitat could be lost.

I assume that this news will not generate much interest. People will just consider it another bit of negative environmental information in a world that is already facing enough problems. Why worry about it?

But how different would it have been if the study had focused on people instead of orangutans and shown that 63 percent of Borneo would no longer be able to support human populations in the foreseeable future? Surely someone would have noticed (or at least screamed that the scientists were totally wrong). What I wonder though is whether this study of Bornean orangutans isn’t just as relevant to the people of the island.

This excerpt from a commentary piece is courtesy of the Jakarta Globe and can be read in its entirety here.

posted by: Tom


Gober’s wild release on video

This video, supplied by the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), follows the preparations for and release of Gober and her twins into the forest, which happened just last week.  See accompanying story below.

posted by: Tom


Orangutan News: Challenging return to wild for formerly blind Sumatran orangutan


A formerly blind orangutan mother of twins was returned to a life in the wild in Aceh, Sumatra Indonesia as part of the work of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).  The release of Gober took place in the conservation forest of Jantho, in Aceh, Indonesia.

Gober’s release was only possible due to groundbreaking cataract surgery in 2012 that restored her eyesight.   The twins are totally unique as they were born to parents who were both blind. Their father Leuser, who we wrote about in 2014 on the Orangutan Conservancy news site, lost his eyesight when he was shot at least 62 times with an air rifle.

Sadly, the plan to release Gober and both of her twin infants together did not work out as hoped. All three were released at the same time, but Ganteng did not take well to the forest environment and Gober struggled in the trees with two infants to watch out for. It was not long before she seemed to give up trying, and poor little Ganteng was left behind.

Gober and Ginting coped perfectly well, travelling through the canopy, finding food and building a huge nest for the night, little Ganteng spent his first night in the forest alone and afraid, cold and wet.

The following day, after seeing that his mother and sister where not coming back for him, SOCP staff were able to give Ganteng food and managed to usher him back to the safety of the onsite cages later that afternoon.

Speaking from Jantho on Wednesday, Dr. Ian Singleton said “The last couple of days have been an emotional roller coaster ride, for all of us but especially for Ganteng, and presumably for Gober and Ginting too. No one believed she would leave one of her twins behind, at least not so soon after release. We’re all a bit stunned at just how quickly it happened. Gober and Ginting are doing fine and it remains to be seen if they will try looking for Ganteng again or not.  In the meantime the most important thing is that all of them are safe.”

Video of the release can be seen in the post above.

Gober was originally rescued by the SOCP from an isolated patch of forest surrounded by palm oil plantations in 2008. As she was blind, she was raiding farmer’s crops to survive and would surely have been killed if left where she was. She was then cared for at the SOCP orangutan quarantine centre near Medan, North Sumatra.

Leuser, the father, will soon call Orangutan Haven home.  Orangutan Haven is being built by SOCP as a semi-wild home for unreleasable orangutans.

The Orangutan Conservancy helps to support the work of SOCP.

posted by: Tom