Orangutan catches a bus

John Grehan jgrehan at TPBMAIL.NET
Wed Jan 28 21:13:37 CST 2004

I found what I thought might be an interesting example of a behavioral
character that may or may not have phylogenetic significance depending on
whether one recognizes morphology as informative in the first place, and
behavior as a morphology in the second.

Imitation is a key element of human learning for children (I think I've
posted something on this before) and orangutans seem to have this
inclination in abundance compared with other apes. Is this heightened
imitation a behavioral synapomorphy? If it could be quantified to show a
significant difference that support narrative observations perhaps so. Here
is one intriguing example  (from Kaplan and Rogers 2000):

"On the fourth and last attempt by the staff at the research station [to
release into the wild], Judy came up with a novel idea. She decided to take
a shortcut back. From the release point, she found a back route out of the
forest to a roadside and a bus stop. Taking a seat at the bus stop, she
waited alone until the local bus appeared. it was on its way to the
research station and had a number of passengers, although the front seats
were empty. The bus stopped and the driver opened the door. The bus driver
was kind. He had no particular prejudice against orangutans and understood
her intention to board the bus. he did not insist on the normal bus fare.
So Judy did not have the long walk back. She got on the bus and without the
slightest hesitation or sign of insecurity took the seat behind the driver.
There she sat calmly as the bus made its way to the research station. When
it arrived the door was opened, she alighted, heading straight for the
research station. The staff said that she expressed much pleasure at
meeting her human friends again".


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