Blessed are the orangutan peacemakers

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A new video captures one orangutan mediating peace "talks" between two other, fighting, orangutans. (You'll have to go to the BBC story to watch.)

Over 13 days of observations, another much older female called Chappy, thought to be 34 years old, became repeatedly aggressive toward Kiki, either chasing or physically attacking her on 28 separate occasions. During 19 of these interactions, another orangutan intervened, physically stepping between the two squabbling apes to separate them. Most of the time the peacemaker was an elder female orangutan called Gypsy, who is thought to be 51 years old.

Researchers said this was the first time peacemaking behavior has been observed in orangutans, which are, in the wild, loners. Basically, it looks as though this group of captive orangutans—forced to live together—have learned a behavior that's previously only been known among more social apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas.

BBC: Bornean organgutan acts as "peacemaker" in Japan zoo

Image courtesy Flickr user mybulldog, via CC

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    1. Given the fact that the agressive acts continued, despite the numerous interventions, makes this behavior seem similar to human behavior.

        1. I like your answer. Well summed up and precise, MrJM.

          Another analog between orangutangs and humans in regards to wild vs. captive would be human conflict in heavily populated areas vs. sparsely populated areas (cities vs. countryside). Not a perfect analogy, but the stereotypical human interactions are comparable.

      1. What’s even more intriguing is that the conflict between the two orangutans is a reoccurring social interaction. Their captive, so they aren’t fighting over food or mates or resources. They’re fighting because of personality conflict. This is something you don’t see often in animals other than humans.

        1. I like bashing humans as much as the next guy, but if you’re theory were true then fights in zoos would never happen. And I may be wrong, but I think that’s far from the case.

        2. Their captive, so they aren’t fighting over food or mates or resources.

          Territory is a resource – or if you prefer, “personal space”. There is a reason why pet dogs, who get all the food and toys they could ever want (and are neutered so have pretty low interest in sex) still chase off the mailman. He’s invading the packs (families) territory! Grrr. woof woof woof!

          Every animal has a threshold where it feels too crowded – eusocial creatures have a much higher threshold, “solitary” animals have a much lower one. Push animals closer together than that threshold, and fights break out for no particular reason. Even rats can get on each others nerves – you don’t need a big complicated primate brain for that.

  1. “Given the fact that the agressive acts continued, despite the numerous interventions, makes this behavior seem similar to human behavior.”

    No, to really make it resemble human behaviour, Gypsy would have to give herself a Don King hairdo and start taking bets on the fight’s outcome.

  2. Gypsy is truly an amazing orangutan– a great ambassador for her cousins in the wild.

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  3. Reminds me of watching dogs at the dog park. On occasion you get the dog who works at breaking up arguments between other dogs. They’ll run between the two dogs and bark at them both until the situation is diffused. Pretty cool to watch. And if left alone by the humans in the park they usually do get the dogs to go about their business…but sometimes it does escalate and it looks like the Italian parliament.

  4. “…physically attacking her on 28 separate occasions… orangutans, which are, in the wild, loners. Basically, it looks as though this group of captive orangutans—forced to live together”

    Who hired these imbecile zoo-keepers?

  5. Rush Limbaugh will probably point out that this orangutan is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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