Home Sciences This is how orangutan mothers communicate with their young

This is how orangutan mothers communicate with their young

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Personality can many times more than the social context. It occurs among humans, and from what a scientific study has just shown, also among orangutans. The researchers have concluded that the communicative behavior and social responsiveness of orangutans vary between individuals and, at the same time, they are also flexible. A) Yes, orangutan mothers differ not only in the composition of their repertoire of gestures directed at their young, but also in their communication tacticssuch as gestural repetition or the response to the demands of the puppies.

The first question that usually arises is whether orangutans have personalities. Scientists believe so, since they consider this species, along with chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos, “non-human people“.

Individuals of these species maintain affective ties, reason, feel, become physically and psychologically ill in captivity, make decisions, are capable of solving problems, have self-awareness and perception of time, mourn losses, learn, communicate and are capable of transmitting what they have learned in complex cultural systemslike that of humans.

A Swiss-German team, led by behavioral scientist Marlen Fröhlich of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and the Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, Germany, has studied mother-infant interactions in orangutans.

The research group paid particular attention to individual differences and flexibility in the communication strategies of orangutan mothers, which they studied both in the wild and in zoos.

Different communication tactics

In their paper, published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society B’ and entitled ‘Individual variation and plasticity in infant-directed communication in orangutan mothers’, the researchers reveal that apes individually adjust their communication to different social contexts, similar to how humans do.

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The differences exist not only in the composition of the gestural repertoire of the mothers, but also in their communication tactics and in their responses to the demands of their young people, regardless of the setting.

Orangutans are often found alone or in very small groups in the wild. Lasting bonds only exist between mothers and their young. But this particular bond lasts a long time: an orangutan mother spends up to nine years preparing her young to live alone.

“The mother-infant relationship in orangutans is therefore ideally suited for our study of intraspecific communication in great apes,” explains Marlen Fröhlich. “Despite their reputation as ‘lonely apes,’ orangutans have a rich repertoire of tactile and visual skills and gestures, both in captivity and in the wildwhich they use in a variety of social contexts,” he notes.

Fröhlich and his fellow researchers looked at the extent to which orangutan communicative behavior varies between individuals and how it simultaneously adjusts to different social conditions.

“To this end, we studied differences in the infant-directed repertoires of orangutan mothers. We did this by analyzing the similarity of gestures between individual mothers living in captivity or in the wild,” he explains.

Also, the team analyzed how female orangutan communication patterns change in different social contextsfor example, by sharing food or playing with other individuals.

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behavioral flexibility

The researchers analyzed 4,839 video recordings of 13 Bornean orangutans (i put pygmaeus) and many others from Sumatra (i put abelii). They started from the basis that the success of primate mothers in rearing may depend on their ability to recognize and respond appropriately to cues from their young, as well as to guide and coordinate, through the use of cues, the pups’ behavior.

“As one of the most effective ways to influence the behavior of others, communication is the glue that binds mothers and calves togetherwhich becomes more evident in the coordination of daily routines, such as food and joint trips”, collects the study.

“The gestural similarity between Bornean and Sumatran orangutan mothers differs markedly when the apes live in different environments. This finding is consistent with previous comparisons between animals living in the wild and in zoos,” Fröhlich notes.

“Most surprisingly, orangutan mothers exhibit significant behavioral flexibility at the individual level. They communicate and respond differently depending on the social context“, summarizes the scientist.

For example, some orangutan mothers solicitously attend to the demands of their young only in some social contexts, while others do so in any circumstance.

Consistent individual differences, i.e. ‘personality’, have been identified in social behaviorincluding patterns of association or direct physical interactions, in numerous animal taxa and recently – as in this case – also between great ape species,” the researchers stress.

Reference Study: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2022.0200

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