Queen of the Jungle

M. Myers Griffith in The Morning News:

Orangutans are some of humans’ closest relatives, genetically. They also rarely exhibit aggression, despite how we’ve abused them. One is different.

Queen-storyOrangutans rarely exhibit aggression. A 2014 study by Dr. Katja Liebal and colleagues showed that out of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, only the orangutans exhibited altruism, readily offering a tool that could help another member of their species get at food that was otherwise out of reach. Altruism has also been scientifically observed in 12-month-old humans and has been documented to increase throughout early childhood. Yet we frequently observe altruism’s absence on the streets of our towns, the instinct subjugated to ego and greed, achievement and pride. What could cause a human to subdue his innate altruism? Could the same have happened to orangutans like Mina?

Certainly the capture and confusion that surrounded Mina’s youth could have fueled her aggression. Yet her legends, the fear she inspired in villagers, gave her a larger aura, as though her aggression was not rooted in her personality but her species’ struggles. A 2010 study of historical documents estimated that orangutan sightings declined from one every two days in 1850 to one every 13 days in 2005. The study, by Dr. Erik Meijaard and colleagues, named hunting as an important cause of species decline. In addition to habitat loss, which discourages breeding and regeneration, hunting continues to lead the causes of orangutan death. According to one survey, led by Dr. Jacqueline Davis, 44,165 orangutans have been killed by humans in Kalimantan (Borneo) in the past 80 years, a staggering number considering that today the there are only about 40,000 living on that island today. Another study by Meijaard and colleagues estimated between 2,383 and 3,882 orangutans have been murdered by humans every year for the past 80 years.

More here.