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Orangutans Play the Blues

August 11, 2009

John Hawks points to a news story showing that orangutans make musical instruments:

When in a tight situation, the orangutans will strip the leaves off a twig and make a crude musical instrument to alter the calls they use to ward off predators — not exactly a Stradivarius, but it seems to get the job done. . .
. . . Orangutans make this noise when they feel threatened, for example, when they fear a predator — such as a snake, clouded leopard, tiger or human — most likely to ward the predator off and not as a distress call.

The researchers call the noises produced “kiss squeeks.” It shows, yet again, that great apes have the capacity to use their environment creatively to develop unique cultural traditions. This is one more example of nonhuman primates being different in degree but not kind.
I can’t help wonder if the orangs don’t ever mourn the loss of their habitat as they play their flora harmonica in the treetops of Borneo.

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