Orangutan: How our cousins use gestures to communicate

Signal like you mean it. New study shows orangutan gestures carry specific intentional meanings. Great ape gestures have intentional meaning and are made with the expectation of specific behavioral responses, according to Erica Cartmill and Richard Byrne from the University of St. Andrews in the UK. The study of meaning in animal communication takes a significant step forward with the authors’ new systematic approach to assessing intentional meaning in the gestural communication of non-humans, applied here to a group of orangutan gestures. Their work is published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition.The first section of this paper sets out their proposed method (goal-outcome matching) which takes into account the apparent aim of the gesturing individual as well as the reaction of the recipient that apparently satisfies the signaller. Where the two match consistently, across examples of a particular gesture, an intentional meaning is identified for that gesture.The authors then applied this approach to a sample of orangutan gestures to identify gestures that are used predictably to induce specific reactions and to begin a lexicon of orangutan gestures and their intentional

meanings.The researchers observed 28 orangutans in three European zoos – Twycross Zoo in the UK, Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey – for nine

months. They identified 64 gesture types, 40 used frequently enough to be analyzed for meaning. These 40 gestures were used predictably to achieve one of six social goals: to initiate an interaction

(contact, grooming or play), request objects, share objects, instigate joint movement (co-locomotion), cause a partner to move back, or stop an action.The researchers then tested their analysis by examining what the gesturing ape did when the response to its gesture did not match the gesture’s meaning, as deduced by the goal-outcome matching method. They found that the apes were more persistent with their gestures when their partner did not respond in the intended way.The authors conclude: “Orangutan gestures are made with the expectation of specific behavioral responses and thus have intentional meaning as well as functional consequences. The level of specificity we were able to identify in the intentional meanings of orangutan gestures resulted from our novel use of goal-outcome matching as a means of incorporating signaler intentions into the analysis of signal meaning. When paired with a high frequency of intentional use, goal-outcome matching is a strong tool for identifying intentional meaning.”  –  St Andrews is Scotland’s first university and the third oldest in the English-speaking world, founded in 1413. Over six centuries it has established a reputation as one of Europe’s leading and most distinctive centres for teaching and research. History of the University; Founded in 1413, St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland. By the middle of the sixteenth century the University had three colleges – St Salvator’s (1450), St Leonard’s (1511), and St Mary’s (1538): the buildings of St Mary’s College and St Salvator’s Chapel both date from this period. The 16th to 18th centuries saw a period of mixed fortunes for the University. During this time St Salvator’s and St Leonard’s Colleges

joined to form the United College which still survives in a greatly enlarged form. In the 19th century the University made considerable progress in developing teaching and research in the Arts, Divinity and the Biological and Physical Sciences. In 1897 the University was joined by a new academic centre in Dundee and with it gained notable achievements in Medical and Applied Science. This association ended in 1967 with the foundation of a separate University of Dundee. The University history, its personalities and its teaching practices can be traced through the records within the institutional archive held in the Library’s Special Collections Department and through the art works, furniture, laboratory equipment and specimens accumulated in its Museum collections. Sources: springer.com & st-andrews.ac.uk   ~  The orangutans are the only exclusively Asian living genus of great ape. They are among the most intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools, also making sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. They are generally not aggressive and live a mostly solitary life foraging for food. They are the largest living arboreal animals with longer arms than other great apes. Their hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of other great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found only in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, though fossils have been found in Java, the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Vietnam and China. There are only two surviving species, both of which are endangered: the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii). The subfamily Ponginae also includes the extinct genera Gigantopithecus and Sivapithecus. The word “orangutan” comes from the Malay words “orang” (man) and “(h)utan” (forest); hence, “man of the forest”. ~  GoodNews International

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