Anthropologists at the University of Zurich have found that not only captive, but also wild-living male orangutans plan their travel route up to one day in advance and communicate it to other members of their species. In order to attract females and repel male rivals, they call in the direction in which they are going to travel.
Until recently it was thought that only humans had the ability to anticipate future actions, whereas animals are caught in the here and now. Experiments with great apes in zoos have shown though that they actually do remember past events and can plan for their future needs.
“We observed that the male orangutans traveled for several hours in approximately the same direction as they had called.” In extreme cases, long calls made around nesting time in the evening predicted the travel direction better than random until the evening of the next day. Carel van Schaik and his team conclude that orangutans plan their route up to a day ahead. In addition, the males often announced changes in travel direction with a new, better-fitting long call.
“Our study makes it clear that wild orangutans do not simply live in the here and now, but can imagine a future and even announce their plans. In this sense, then, they have become a bit more like us”, concludes Carel van Schaik.