15 APR 2015
San Diego Zoo Observations
It is impossible to go back to the past to observe exactly how different species have evolved and changed over the centuries. This is why it is important for us to observe and study these species now, in order to better understand the past and find the similarities, differences, and how each of these animals have adapted in their environments over time. To better understand ourselves, we must first understand the primates from which we have perhaps evolved from. These primates share many similar characteristics as humans do and have complex social structures that closely relate to our own. I will be discussing two different primates of which I observed; the orangutan (Pongo Pygmaeus and Pongo Abelii) and the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla).
The first groups of primates I visited and observed were the orangutans, which translates to ‘man of the forest’ in the Malay language. There were two different sub species in the enclosed habitat, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo Pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo Abelii). The Bornean orangutans varied in appearance from the Sumatran orangutans, with shorter hair on the beard, a much larger and broader face, and also seemed to have darker colored fur. There was one male and four visible females inside the habitat, along with a few smaller monkeys. The male was much larger than both of the female species in both size and weight. He was estimated to weigh about 260 pounds, while the females were estimated at just 130 pounds. He spent his entire time on the ground, walking around to the other females, giving each of them some sort of attention. He walked around on his knuckles, with his fingers flat along the ground and not in a fist. There were no signs of dominance during the time of observation to either humans or other primates inside the habitat. The habitat in which they lived was filled with various rock structures; half caves that were made to give shade, four, large metal “trees” that spanned about an equal distance from one another across the entire habitat in which many large ropes and nets hung and spanned from them. There were multiple, large, bamboo poles lined up in a vertical line, with rope connecting each to the other. These types of structures are fairly similar to what these species would have encountered in their native habitats. According to worldwildlife.org, the normal habitats for these primates are “Lowland rainforests and tropical, swamp and mountain forests” (CITE) and “Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests” (CITE). Which made me wonder, why were they using metal “trees” instead of natural trees like the other primates had in their artificial habitats? Their diets seemed to consist of palm fronds, grasses, and some type of leafy vegetable that the male was carrying around. The World Wildlife Fund cites the orangutans typical natural diet as, “About 60% of the orangutan's diet comes from fruit, with the rest comprising young leaves and shoots, insects, soil, tree bark, woody lianas, and occasionally eggs and small vertebrates” (CITE). So the contrast in diet in captivity seems to be fairly minimal compared to what they would be accustomed to in the wild. The male took a large palm stock and poked inside of a make-shift termite mound, until he got some type of liquid on it and then licked off. He repeated this three times until he was satisfied and put the frond down. He then walked up behind a female who was resting against the observation glass, examined her anus by smelling and picking at it, then walked off as if satisfied by its cleanliness. He spent most of his time with one specific female who was resting in the shade. As stated by a zoo staff member, that although arboreal, Bornean male orangutans more often descend to the ground than the Sumatran orangutans do. This was apparent, as the male never climbed into one of the “trees” during...
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