Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Twilight for the Orangutans?

I had no idea that orangutans were in so much trouble. Their loss would be, aesthetically speaking, a great tragedy --- as C. McGrath writes:

Anyone who has watched much nature television knows that orangutans are by far the handsomest and smartest-looking of the great apes. They're literal highbrows, with wide, soulful eyes and broad expressive foreheads. They're covered not with bathmat fur, like so many apes, but with what amounts to a couture pelt -- red hair so long and fine it seems blow-dried. It's true that orangutans drag their knuckles when they walk, but how else are you going to get around if your arms are longer than your legs? For creatures so large, they are uncommonly graceful, not to mention sweet-natured, so it's gratifying to learn that a team of scientists, writing in the journal Science, has recently certified them as ''cultured'' as well.

Well, I wouldn't go quite so far as to call them the smartest-looking. We're great apes too. OTOH they're probably smarter than baboons...

When baboons hunt together they'd love to get as much meat as possible, but they're not very good at it. The baboon is a much more successful hunter when he hunts by himself than when he hunts in a group because they screw up every time they're in a group. Say three of them are running as fast as possible after a gazelle, and they're gaining on it, and they're deadly. But something goes on in one of their minds-I'm anthropomorphizing here-and he says to himself, "What am I doing here? I have no idea whatsoever, but I'm running as fast as possible, and this guy is running as fast as possible right behind me, and we had one hell of a fight about three months ago. I don't quite know why we're running so fast right now, but I'd better just stop and slash him in the face before he gets me." The baboon suddenly stops and turns around, and they go rolling over each other like Keystone cops and the gazelle is long gone because the baboons just became disinhibited. They get crazed around each other at every juncture.

But I digress. (The Sapolsky link is just way too cool to pass up.) I don't seriously think that online petitions are likely to do anything, but maybe the Orangutan Foundation International (donation link; Charity Navigator report), the International Primate Protection League (donation link; Charity Navigator report), or BOS-USA (no report available) have some better ideas.

UPDATE: In comments, Inky points to the world's most endangered animals, plus another link concerning culture for those who want more than McGrath's article provides.