Orangutans share a special bond with human beings because we share many similarities with them. They are apes, like us, covered in hair not fur. They have opposable thumbs and have the capacity to learn languages and communicate. So how do orangutans communicate? Read on to find out more.

The social life of an orangutan

Orangutan at Bali Safari Park

Orangutan exhibit both social and solitary behaviors. Mother orangutans spend a lot of time with their babies and infants. Young adult orangutans frequently socialize with other orangutans of the same age, but occasionally ‘visit’ their mothers until around 15 to 18 years old. Afterward, it is a solitary life for adult orangutans, paying each other a visit only during the mating season.

Most social animals develop a system of communication or signaling, and this communication and social behavior typically stays with them throughout their lives. The uniqueness of orangutan is retained communicative behavior, but when they in older age show some solitary behavior.

To communicate, orangutans employ both verbal and non-verbal communication. However, animal behavior experts observed that non-verbal communication. That appears to be the dominant form of communication, which delivers the most message.

Verbal call outs

Orangutan's babies in Bali Safari Park

Compared to other apes, orangutans don’t make much sound. Given the semi-solitary nature of the orangutans, verbal communication serves better for long-distance signaling with the surrounding apes in the area.

Loud long calls that last up to a minute are commonly heard in the canopy. These could possibly mean several things: to let other orangutans know that they are in the location and to give a stressor signal of an impending storm – in order to help them and other orangutans make preparations to protect their young from torrential rainfall.

Bellow is a distinct type of long call from adult males using their throat sack, which they develop at adulthood. Because not all males develop throat sacks at the same rate, then sound is related with asserting dominance and female interest.

Orangutans are known laughing like human beings. This can be heard when they are tackling one another. The mothers create short gentle sounds to encourage their babies, or when they are playing with them.

Orangutan charades

When it comes to non-verbal communication, orangutans are extremely capable. They are not only able to pick up sign languages from other orangutans, but also from humans too. This show non-verbal communication in orangutans also learned, not congenital like the most animals.

For example, they use visual signs like pointing, waving, banging rocks and twigs and moving their limbs a certain way. These gestures are rich in meaning – from requesting or sharing objects, to initiate interactions and to warn other individuals to stop harmful behaviors.

Researchers found, what is the orangutan do if their message is not fully understood? First, they try to communicate again in different way. And second, they will repeat gestures to make the message clearly. It is as if the orangutans communicate similarly to a game of charades.

Scientists found out by pretending not to understand the orangutans when they request their favorite foods, and intentionally giving the wrong type of food.

Have you seen the orangutans at our educational shows? Bali Safari Park offers a number of ways you can meet these lovely intelligent apes. Spend some time with them, and maybe you can learn how to talk to orangutans the way our Safari Rangers do.