Sumatra Orangutans
and Borneo Orangutans

Orangutans are the only kind of great apes home in Asia. Once the orangutans habitates stretched out over wide parts of Southeast Asia. They lived from Java over the Malay Peninsula up to the south of China. In the last ice age, tenthousand of years ago, there was a landbridge between the Southeast Asian mainland and the great Sunda islands Sumatra, Borneo, Java and Bali. After the links were flooded, the species on the islands evolved in an isolated manner and separated in their development. Nowadays, the oranutan is only home in the northern parts of Sumatra (particularly Gunung Leuser National Park and Banda Aceh) and in Borneo (Kalimantan). Genome analysis recently showed that both kinds diverged thousands of years ago and formed out two significant different species, of whom the Borneon orangutan splits up into three different subspecies.

Asienreisender - Orang Utan

An orangutan in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. Image by Asienreisender, 1995

While they once counted up to millions of individuals, their number has been shrunken now to thousands. Tendency: declining. Although orangutans have no real enemies in wildlife except tigers, they are heavily hunted and poached by humans. And never that much than nowadays, where great parts of the former primary rainforest is fallen for the sake of a huge, growing and insatiable hungry plantation economy.

The great apes are among the most intelligent beings on earth. They use a variety of different tools for their purposes. It's even possible to differ certain cultures among the populations.

The name 'orang utan' is Malay and means 'forest man'. That's because they are really humanlike and genetically close to homo sapiens. The genetical difference is less than 4%. Watching their face expressions underlines their proximity to man.

Orangutans grow up to 150cm and gain a weight of 50kg to 90kg. In prisonship only some individuals tend to grow heavier, up to 200kg. In wildlife they can reach an age of up to fifty years.

'Orangutan in Bukit Lawang | Sumatra' by Asienreisender

An adolescent on the feeding platform in the orangutan center of Bukit Lawang. Image by Asienreisender, 1995

Orangs are perfectly adapted to forest life and living in tall trees. They barely leave the trees, and for nighttime they build a nest right up in a treetop. Their kind of moving in the trees is a pleasure to watch: slowly they move from branch to branch, being able to manage their body weight with one of their long arms only. Their arms are enourmesly strong, their legs therefore are remarkably short.

Usually orangutans are not aggressive towards humans. If they exceptionally are, mostly when being under attack, they can be quite dangerous. And despite their normally very relaxed appearance they can be extremely fast if they want to.

The orangs diet consists almost exclusively of plants, combined with insects, sometimes bird eggs and small vertebrates like lizards.

As the best known scientific specialist and authority on orangutans Dr. Birutė Galdikas is counted, a 1946 born primatologist, conservationist and ethnologist. She wrote several books on orangutans and lived some 30 years on Borneo; her field studies contributed fundamental knowledge about the species.

Borneo Orangutans
'Borneo Orangutans | Painting at the Outer Walls of Dusit Zoo | Bangkok' by Asienreisender

Painting of Borneo orangutans with baby. Image by Asienreisender, Dusit Zoo, Bangkok, 5/2012


Bukit Lawang

Asienreisender - Orangutan Bohorok

Orangutans at the feeding station in Bukit Lawang. Image by Asienreisender, 1995

There is little opportunity to watch orangutans in wildlife. But there are a few places where they can still be observed. One of these places is Bukit Lawang at the border of the Gunung Leuser National Park on Sumatra / Indonesia, where some orangutans live around. In Bukit Lawang was between the 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century an orangutan 'rehabilitation center'. Confiscated orangutans were fed here twice a day, but led a life in the jungle. Though the center is meanwhile closed, there are some of the apes still around.


Orangutans -
A Critically Endangered Species

Orangutans live solitary and need huge areas to live in. The most intensive relationship is between a female and it's baby. The reproduction rate of the orangutans is low, most of the females give birth to a baby only twice or three times in their live. That makes the species very vulnerable.

Most females are territorial, some males are too. Many males are not, they wander around on the search for food and for females. Their status is therefore lower than the status of males holding a territory. Since their habitats are burnt and chopped, transformed into plantations particularly for palmoil and rubber, there is less and less territory left for them to live in. They are also hunted for commercial purposes, especially the babies. They are traded as pets on the notorious animal markets in Southeast Asia. The animal market in Jakarta is the biggest of this kind. The mothers therefore get mostly killed, the hunters aim for the small ones. In many regions in Asia monkeys are generally hunted for food. In Sumatra and Borneo orangutans are hunted for food as well.

There are permanently bad news concerning the orangutans. In May 2012 the Indonesian government gave out new licenses to international companies and expanded territories for palmoil plantations and forced to close orangutan rescue camps in 2015, who are run by non-governmental organizations.

Orangutans in the Rainforest
'Orangutan Mother with Baby in Bukit Lawang | Sumatra' by Asienreisender

Orangutan mother with baby. Image by Asienreisender, Bukit Lawang, 1995

There are about a thousand of the big monkeys in such camps. The NGO's are trying to reintroduce them to new habitats - but habitats are getting rare. Too much rainforest is already fallen and the further destruction for the sake of plantations is going on in a rather accellerating speed. Every year great areas get burned down. In around July/August 2013 there were again great fires on middle Sumatra, marking a new negative record, topping even the desastrous jungle fires of 1997. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and wide parts of west Malaysia were heavily affected by the smog. Polititians promised to persecute the offenders of illegal burning, but in fact they are part of the criminal networks and make a share in it.

There is no plan what to do with the thousands of refugee orangs who loose their habitats. The existing camps are overcrowded already. In the 20 years between 1992 - 2012 the orangutan population on Borneo is decreased by 55%.

The situation on Sumatra is even worse. Estimated over 80% of the population of 75 years ago has vanished, there are no more than 7,000 individuals left, probably much less, maybe 4,000 only. Since the Indonesian government granted in 2013 extensive new land concessions in the Gunung Leuser National Park to big companies, the remaining life span of the Sumatra orangutan is counted. In a few years they will probably be extinct.

So, it's not said too much if claimed that man is the biggest enemy of the orangutan. Other enemies they have are tigers (at least on Sumatra, there are no tigers on Borneo), sometimes straying dogs and boars or crocodiles, but they are themselves very rare nowadays.

Both kinds of orangutan on Sumatra and on Borneo are endangered species, especially the Sumatra orangutan (critically endangered). It might be that in a very few years mans nearest relative is completely exctint in the wild. One more step on the way to the total destruction of planet earth.


Hunting Orangutans

The persecution of orangutans by humans has a long record. That is because of several reasons. First, as above mentioned already, monkeys in general are part of the human diet in Southeast Asia. Not only monkeys, in fact in rural Southeast Asia one sees people hunting for food anything what could be edible. That has a tradition which is as old as mankind itself. Nowadays it means still food for free for the peasants who hunt in the forests.

The second reason is the orangutans habit to come close to human settlements and to feed from the same fruit as the people do. They also serve themselves in orchards.

Besides there is a lot of pet trade happen in Southeast Asia; orangs are moreover killed and prepared for decoration purposes as well as for usage in traditional medicine.

When Westerners arrived in Southeast Asia they first were only interested in the mercantile riches of the countries. Much later they partially approached the very rich nature here scientifically. Their methods weren't always that sensitive. Europeans learned of the existence of orangutans in the 17th century. The famous 19th century explorers and naturalists did their explorations always with a loaded rifle in their hands. And that was not only to be prepared for a tiger's raid or that of other potentially dangerous animals in the forest. They did hunt a lot for studying the shot specimens and sometimes sent them to museums in Europe.

The idea of preserving nature came much later in some peoples mind, and it came only with the consciousness that things are getting rare and therefore have to be preserved.

I want to give a lively example by quoting one of the great 'classical' 19th century explorers, Alfred Russel Wallace, on his experiences and observations on orangutans in Borneo in 1855. Wallace is using the Dayak term 'Mias' for orangutan.


As this was the last Mias I (...) saw an adult living animal, I will give a sketch of its general habits, and any other facts connected with it.

The Orang-utan is known to inhabit Sumatra and Borneo, and there is every reason to believe that it is confined to these two great islands, in the former of which, however, it seems to be much more rare. In Borneo it has a wide range, inhabiting many districts on the south-west, south-east, north-east, and north-west coasts, but appears to be chiefly confined to the low and swampy forests. It seems, at first sight, very inexplicable that the Mias should be quite unknown in the Saráwak valley, while it is abundant in Sambas, on the west, and Sádong, on the east. But when we know the habits and mode of life of the animal, we see a sufficient reason for this apparent anomaly in the physical features of the Saráwak district. In the Sádong, where I observed it, the Mias is only found when the country is low level and swampy, and at the same time covered with a lofty virgin forest. From these swamps rise many isolated mountains, on some of which the Dyaks have settled, and covered with plantations of fruit trees. These are a great attraction to the Mias, which comes to feed on the unripe fruits, but always retires to the swamp at night. Where the country becomes slightly elevated, and the soil dry, the Mias is no longer to be found. (...)

Now it seems to me probable, that a wide extent of unbroken and equally lofty virgin forest is necessary to the comfortable existence of these animals. Such forests form their open country, where they can roam in every direction with as much facility as the Indian on the prairie, or the Arab on the desert; passing from tree-top to tree-top without ever being obliged to descend upon the earth. The elevated and the drier districts are more frequented by man, more cut up by clearings and low second-growth jungle not adapted to its peculiar mode of progression, and where it would therefore be more exposed to danger, and more frequently obliged to descend upon the earth.

There is probably also a greater variety of fruit in the Mias district, the small mountains which rise like islands out of it serving as a sort of gardens or plantations, where the trees of the uplands are to be found in the very midst of the swampy plains.

It is a singular and very interesting sight to watch a Mias making his way leisurely through the forest. He walks deliberately along some of the larger branches, in the semi-erect attitude which the great length of his arms and the shortness of his legs cause him naturally to assume; and the disproportion between these limbs is increased by his walking on his knuckles, not on the palm of the hand, as we should do. He seems always to choose those branches which intermingle with an adjoining tree, on approaching which he stretches out his long arms, and, seizing the opposing boughs, grasps them together with both hands, seems to try their strength, and then deliberately swings himself across to the next branch, on which he walks along as before. He never jumps or springs, or even appears to hurry himself, and yet manages to get along almost as quickly as a person can run through the forest beneath. The long and powerful arms are of the greatest use to the animal, enabling it to climb easily up the loftiest trees, to seize fruits and young leaves from slender boughs which will not bear its weight, and to gather leaves and branches with which to form its nest.

I have already described how it forms a nest when wounded, but it uses a similar one to sleep on almost every night. This is placed low down, however, on a small tree not more than from twenty to fifty feet from the ground, probably because it is warmer and less exposed to wind than higher up. Each Mias is said to make a fresh one for himself every night; but I should think that is hardly probable, or their remains would be much more abundant; for though I saw several about the coalmines, there must have been many Orangs about every day, and in a year their deserted nests would become very numerous. The Dyaks say that, when it is very wet, the Mias covers himself over with leaves of pandanus, or large ferns, which has perhaps led to the story of his making a hut in the trees.

The Orang does not leave his bed till the sun has well risen and has dried up the dew upon the leaves. He feeds all through the middle of the day, but seldom returns to the same tree two days running. They do not seem much alarmed at man, as they often stared down upon me for several minutes, and then only moved away slowly to an adjacent tree. After seeing one, I have often had to go half a mile or more to fetch my gun, and in nearly every case have found it on the same tree,
or within a hundred yards, when I returned. I never saw two full-grown animals together, but both males and females are sometimes accompanied by half-grown young ones, while, at other times, three or four young ones were seen in company. Their food consists almost exclusively of fruit, with occasionally leaves, buds, and young shoots. They seem to prefer unripe fruits, some of which were very sour, others intensely bitter, particularly the large red, fleshy arillus of one which seemed an especial favourite. In other cases they
eat only the small seed of a large fruit, and they almost always waste and destroy more than they eat, so that there is a continual rain of rejected portions below the tree they are feeding on.

The Durian is an especial favourite, and quantities of this delicious fruit are destroyed wherever it grows surrounded by forest, but they will not cross clearings to get at them. It seems wonderful how the animal can tear open this fruit, the outer covering of which is so thick and tough, and closely covered with strong conical spines. It probably bites off a few of these first, and then, making a small hole, tears open the fruit with its powerful fingers. The Mias rarely descends to the ground, except when, pressed by hunger, it seeks for succulent shoots by the river side; or, in very dry weather, has to search after water, of which it generally finds sufficient in the hollows of leaves. Once only I saw two half-grown Orangs on the ground in a dry hollow at the foot of the Simunjon hill. They were playing together, standing erect, and grasping each other by the arms. It may be safely stated, however, that the Orang never walks erect, unless when using its hands to support itself by branches overhead or when attacked.

Representations of its walking with a stick are entirely imaginary. The Dyaks all declare that the Mias is never attacked by any animal in the forest, with two rare exceptions; and the accounts I received of these are so curious that I give them nearly in the words of my informants, old Dyak chiefs, who had lived all their lives in the places where the animal is most abundant. The first of whom I inquired said: "No animal is strong enough to hurt the Mias, and the only creature he ever fights with is the crocodile. When there is no fruit in the jungle, he goes to seek food on the banks of the river, where there are plenty of young shoots that he likes, and fruits that grow close to the water. Then the crocodile sometimes tries to seize him, but the Mias gets upon him, and beats him with his hands and feet, and tears him and kills him." He added that he had once seen such a fight, and that he believes that the Mias is always the victor.

My next informant was the Orang Kaya, or chief of the Balow Dyaks, on the Simunjon River. He said: "The Mias has no enemies; no animals dare attack it but the crocodile and the python. He always kills the crocodile by main strength, standing upon it, pulling open its jaws, and ripping up its throat. If a python attacks a Mias, he seizes it with his hands, and then bites it, and soon kills it. The Mias is very strong; there is no animal in the jungle so strong as he."

It is very remarkable that an animal so large, so peculiar, and of such a high type of form as the Orang-utan, should be confined to so limited a district—to two islands; and those almost the last inhabited by the higher Mammalia; for, eastward of Borneo and Java, the Quadrumania, Ruminants, Carnivora, and many other groups of Mammalia, diminish rapidly, and soon entirely disappear. When we consider, further, that almost all other animals have in earlier ages been represented by allied yet distinct forms—that, in the latter part of the tertiary period, Europe was inhabited by bears, deer, wolves, and cats; Australia by kangaroos and other marsupials; South America by gigantic sloths and ant-eaters; all different from any now existing, though intimately allied to them—we have every reason to believe that the Orang-utan, the Chimpanzee, and the Gorilla have also had their forerunners. With what interest must every naturalist look forward to the time when the caves and tertiary deposits of the tropics may be thoroughly examined, and the past history and earliest appearance of the great man-like apes be at length made known.

Wallace, Alfred Russel:
'The Malay Archipelago'
'The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise.
A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.'
London 1869

Hunting Orangutans

Exactly a week after (...) I succeeded in shooting a full-grown male Orang-utan. I had just come home from an entomologising excursion when Charles rushed in out of breath with running and excitement, and exclaimed, interrupted by gasps, "Get the gun, sir,—be quick,—such a large Mias!" "Where is it?" I asked, taking hold of my gun as I spoke, which happened luckily to have one barrel loaded with ball. "Close by, sir—on the path to the mines—he can't get away." Two Dyaks chanced to be in the house at the time, so I called them to accompany me, and started off, telling Charley to bring all the ammunition after me as soon as possible. The path from our clearing to the mines led along the side of the hill a little way up its slope, and parallel with it at the foot a wide opening had been made for a road, in which several Chinamen were working, so that the animal could not escape into the swampy forest below. Charles Allen, an English lad of sixteen, accompanied me as an assistant.

(...) We walked cautiously along, not making the least noise, and listening attentively for any sound which might betray the presence of the Mias, stopping at intervals to gaze upwards. Charley soon joined us at the place where he had seen the creature, and having taken the ammunition and put a bullet in the other barrel we dispersed a little, feeling sure that it must be somewhere near, as it had probably descended the hill, and would not be likely to return again. After a short time I heard a very slight rustling sound overhead, but on gazing up could see nothing. I moved about in every direction to get a full view into every part of the tree under which I had been standing, when I again heard the same noise but louder, and saw the leaves shaking as if caused by the motion of some heavy animal which moved off to an adjoining tree. I immediately shouted for all of them to come up and try and get a view, so as to allow me to have a shot. This was not an easy matter, as the Mias had a knack of selecting places with dense foliage beneath. Very soon, however, one of the Dyaks called me and pointed upwards, and on looking I saw a great red hairy body and a huge black face gazing down from a great height, as if wanting to know what was making such a disturbance below. I instantly fired, and he made off at once, so that I could not then tell whether I had hit him.

He now moved very rapidly and very noiselessly for so large an animal, so I told the Dyaks to follow and keep him in sight while I loaded. The jungle was here full of large angular fragments of rock from the mountain above, and thick with hanging and twisted creepers. Running, climbing, and creeping among these, we came up with the creature on the top of a high tree near the road, where the Chinamen had discovered him, and were shouting their astonishment with open mouth: "Ya Ya, Tuan; Orang-utan, Tuan." Seeing that he could not pass here without descending, he turned up again towards the hill, and I got two shots, and following quickly had two more by the time he had again reached the path; but he was always more or less concealed by foliage, and protected by the large branch on which he was walking. Once while loading I had a splendid view of him, moving along a large limb of a tree in a semi-erect posture, and showing him to be an animal of the largest size. At the path he got on to one of the loftiest trees in the forest, and we could see one leg hanging down useless, having been broken by a ball. He now fixed himself in a fork, where he was hidden by thick foliage, and seemed disinclined to move. I was afraid he would remain and die in this position, and as it was nearly evening I could not have got the tree cut down that day. I therefore fired again, and he then moved off, and going up the hill was obliged to get on to some lower trees, on the branches of one of which he fixed himself in such a position that he could not fall, and lay all in a heap as if dead, or dying.

I now wanted the Dyaks to go up and cut off the branch he was resting on, but they were afraid, saying he was not dead, and would come and attack them. We then shook the adjoining tree, pulled the hanging creepers, and did all we could to disturb him, but without effect, so I thought it best to send for two Chinamen with axes to cut down the tree. While the messenger was gone, however, one of the Dyaks took courage and climbed towards him, but the Mias did not wait for him to get near, moving off to another tree, where he got on to a dense mass of branches and creepers which almost completely hid him from our view. The tree was luckily a small one, so when the axes came we soon had it cut through; but it was so held up by jungle ropes and climbers to adjoining trees that it only fell into a sloping position.

The Mias did not move, and I began to fear that after all we should not get him, as it was near evening, and half a dozen more trees would have to be cut down before the one he was on would fall. As a last resource we all began pulling at the creepers, which shook the tree very much, and, after a few minutes, when we had almost given up all hopes, down he came with a crash and a thud like the fall of a giant. And he was a giant, his head and body being full as large as a man's. He was of the kind called by the Dyaks "Mias Chappan," or "Mias Pappan," which has the skin of the face broadened out to a ridge or fold at each side. His outstretched arms measured seven feet three inches across, and his height, measuring fairly from the top of the head to the heel, was four feet two inches. The body just below the arms was three feet two inches round, and was quite as long as a man's, the legs being exceedingly short in proportion. On examination we found he had been dreadfully wounded. Both legs were broken, one hip-joint and the root of the spine completely shattered, and two bullets were found flattened in his neck and jaws! Yet he was still alive when he fell. The two Chinamen carried him home tied to a pole, and I was occupied with Charley the whole of the next day, preparing the skin and boiling the bones to make a perfect skeleton, which are now preserved in the Museum at Derby.

Wallace, Alfred Russel:
'The Malay Archipelago'
'The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise.
A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.'
London 1869

Orangutan, hunted by Dayak People

A Dayak getting bitten by an orangutan while chasing him. Sketch from 'The Malay Archipelago' (1869)

About ten days after this, on June 4th, some Dyaks came to tell us that the day before a Mias had nearly killed one of their companions. A few miles down the river there is a Dyak house, and the inhabitants saw a large Orang feeding on the young shoots of a palm by the river-side. On being alarmed he retreated towards the jungle which was close by, and a number of the men, armed with spears and choppers, ran out to intercept him. The man who was in front tried to run his spear through the animal's body, but the Mias seized it in his hands, and in an instant got hold of the man's arm, which he seized in his mouth, making his teeth meet in the flesh above the elbow, which he tore and lacerated in a dreadful manner. Had not the others been close behind, the man would have been more seriously injured, if not killed, as he was quite powerless; but they soon destroyed the creature with their spears and choppers. The man remained ill for a long time, and never fully recovered the use of his arm.

They told me the dead Mias was still lying where it had been killed, so I offered them a reward to bring it up to our landing-place immediately, which they promised to do. They did not come, however, till the next day, and then decomposition had commenced, and great patches of the hair came off, so that it was useless to skin it. This I regretted much, as it was a very fine full-grown male. I cut off the head and took it home to clean, while I got my men to make a close fence about five feet high round the rest of the body, which would soon be devoured by maggots, small lizards, and ants, leaving me the skeleton. There was a great gash in his face, which had cut deep into the bone, but the skull was a very fine one, and the teeth remarkably large and perfect.

Wallace, Alfred Russel:
'The Malay Archipelago'
'The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise.
A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.'
London 1869

Artificial Breeding

Only four days afterwards some Dyaks saw another Mias near the same place, and came to tell me. We found it to be a rather large one, very high up on a tall tree. At the second shot it fell rolling over, but almost immediately got up again and began to climb. At a third shot it fell dead. This was also a full-grown female, and while preparing to carry it home, we found a young one face downwards in the bog. This little creature was only about a foot long, and had evidently been hanging to its mother when she first fell. Luckily it did not appear to have been wounded, and after we had cleaned the mud out of its mouth it began to cry out, and seemed quite strong and active.

While carrying it home it got its hands in my beard, and grasped so tightly that I had great difficulty in getting free, for the fingers are habitually bent inwards at the last joint so as to form completehooks. At this time it had not a single tooth, but a few days afterwards it cut its two lower front teeth. Unfortunately, I had no milk to give it, as neither Malays Chinese nor Dyaks ever use the article, and I in vain inquired for any female animal that could suckle my little infant. I was therefore obliged to give it rice-water from a bottle with a quill in the cork, which after a few trials it learned to suck very well. This was very meagre diet, and the little creature did not thrive well on it, although I added sugar and cocoa-nut milk occasionally, to make it more nourishing. When I put my finger in its mouth it sucked with great vigour, drawing in its cheeks with all its might in the vain effort to extract some milk, and only after persevering a long time would it give up in disgust, and set up a scream very like that of a baby in similar circumstances.

When handled or nursed, it was very quiet and contented, but when laid down by itself would invariably cry; and for the first few nights was very restless and noisy. I fitted up a little box for a cradle, with a soft mat for it to lie upon, which was changed and washed every day; and I soon found it necessary to wash the little Mias as well. After I had done so a few times, it came to like the operation, and as soon as it was dirty would begin crying, and not leave off till I took it out and carried it to the spout, when it immediately became quiet, although it would wince a little at the first rush of the cold water and make ridiculously wry faces while the stream was running over its head. It enjoyed the wiping and rubbing dry amazingly, and when I brushed its hair seemed to be perfectly happy, lying quite still with its arms and legs stretched out while I thoroughly brushed the long hair of its back and arms. For the first few days it clung desperately with all four hands to whatever it could lay hold of, and I had to be careful to keep my beard out of its way, as its fingers clutched old of hair more tenaciously than anything else, and it was impossible to free myself without assistance. When restless, it would struggle about with its hands up in the air trying to find something to take hold of, and, when it had got a bit of stick or rag in two or three of its hands, seemed quite happy. For want of something else, it would often seize its own feet, and after a time it would constantly cross its arms and grasp with each hand the long hair that grew just below the opposite shoulder. The great tenacity of its grasp soon diminished, and I was obliged to invent some means to give it exercise and strengthen its limbs. For this purpose I made a short ladder of three or four rounds, on which I put it to hang for a quarter of an hour at time. At first it seemed much pleased, but it could not get all four hands in a comfortable position, and, after changing about several times, would leave hold of one hand after the other, and drop on to the floor.

Sometimes when hanging only by two hands, it would loose one, and cross it to the opposite shoulder, grasping its own hair; and, as this seemed much more agreeable than the stick, it would then loose the other and tumble down, when it would cross both and lie on its back quite contentedly, never seeming to be hurt by its numerous tumbles. Finding it so fond of hair, I endeavoured to make an artificial mother, by wrapping up a piece of buffalo-skin into a bundle, and suspending it about a foot from the floor. At first this seemed to suit it admirably, as it could sprawl its legs about and always find some hair, which it grasped with the greatest tenacity. I was now in hopes that I had made the little orphan quite happy; and so it seemed for some time, till it began to remember its lost parent, and try to suck. It would pull itself up close to the skin, and try about everywhere for a likely place; but, as it only succeeded in getting mouthfuls of hair and wool, it would be greatly disgusted, and scream violently, and, after two or three attempts, let go altogether. One day it got some wool into its throat, and I thought it would have choked, but after much gasping it recovered, and I was obliged to take the imitation mother to pieces again, and give up this last attempt to exercise the little creature.

After the first week I found I could feed it better with a spoon, and give it a little more varied and more solid food. Well-soaked biscuit mixed with a little egg and sugar, and sometimes sweet potatoes, were readily eaten; and it was a never-failing amusement to observe the curious changes of countenance by which it would express its approval or dislike of what was given to it. The poor little thing would lick its lips, draw in its cheeks, and turn up its eyes with an expression of the most supreme satisfaction when it had a mouthful particularly to its taste. On the other hand, when its food was not sufficiently sweet or palatable, it would turn the mouthful about with its tongue for a moment as if trying to extract what flavour there was, and then push it all out between its lips. If the same food was continued, it would set up a scream and kick about violently, exactly like a baby in a passion. After I had had the little Mias about three weeks, I fortunately obtained a young hare-lip monkey (Macacus cynomolgus), which, though small, was very active, and could feed itself. I placed it in the same box with the Mias, and they immediately became excellent friends, neither exhibiting the least fear of the other. The little monkey would sit upon the other's stomach, or even on its face, without the least regard to its feelings. While I was feeding the Mias, the monkey would sit by, picking up all that was spilt, and occasionally putting out its hands to intercept the spoon; and as soon as I had finished would pick off what was left sticking to the Mias' lips, and then pull open its mouth and see if any still remained inside; afterwards lying down on the poor creature's stomach as on a comfortable cushion. The little helpless Mias would submit to all these insults with the most exemplary patience, only too glad to have something warm near it, which it could clasp affectionately in its arms. It sometimes, however, had its revenge; for when the monkey wanted to go away, the Mias would hold on as long as it could by the loose skin of its back or head, or by its tail, and it was only after many vigorous jumps that the monkey could make his escape. It was curious to observe the different actions of these two animals, which could not have differed much in age. The Mias, like a very young baby, lying on its back quite helpless, rolling lazily from side to side, stretching out all four hands into the air, wishing to grasp something, but hardly able to guide its fingers to any definite object; and when dissatisfied, opening wide its almost toothless mouth, and expressing its wants by a most infantine scream. The little monkey, on the other hand, in constant motion; running and jumping about wherever it pleased, examining everything around it, seizing hold of the smallest objects with the greatest precision, balancing itself on the edge of the box or running up a post, and helping itself to anything eatable that came in its way. There could hardly be a greater contrast, and the baby Mias looked more baby-like by the comparison.

When I had had it about a month, it began to exhibit some signs of learning to run alone. When laid upon the floor it would push itself along by its legs, or roll itself over, and thus make an unwieldy progression. When lying in the box it would lift itself up to the edge into almost an erect position, and once or twice succeeded in tumbling out.

When left dirty, or hungry, or otherwise neglected, it would scream violently till attended to, varied by a kind of coughing or pumping noise, very similar to that which is made by the adult animal. If no one was in the house, or its cries were not attended to, it would be quiet after a little while, but the moment it heard a footstep would begin again harder than ever.

After five weeks it cut its two upper front teeth, but in all this time it had not grown the least bit, remaining both in size and weight the same as when I first procured it. This was no doubt owing to the want of milk or other equally nourishing food. Rice-water, rice, and biscuits were but a poor substitute, and the expressed milk of the cocoa-nut which I sometimes gave it did not quite agree with its stomach. To this I imputed an attack of diarrhoea from which the poor little creature suffered greatly, but a small dose of castoroil operated well, and cured it.

A week or two afterwards it was again taken ill, and this time more seriously. The symptoms were exactly those of intermittent fever, accompanied by watery swellings on the feet and head. It lost all appetite for its food, and, after lingering for a week a most pitiable object, died, after being in my possession nearly three months. I much regretted the loss of my little pet, which I had at one time looked forward to bringing up to years of maturity, and taking home to England. For several months it had afforded me daily amusement by its curious ways and the inimitably ludicrous expression of its little countenance. Its weight was three pounds nine ounces, its height fourteen inches, and the spread of its arms twenty-three inches. I preserved its skin and skeleton, and in doing so found that when it fell from the tree it must have broken an arm and a leg, which had, however, united so rapidly that I had only noticed the hard swellings on the limbs where the irregular junction of the bones had taken place.

Wallace, Alfred Russel:
'The Malay Archipelago'
'The land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise.
A narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature.'
London 1869

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Published on November 4th, 2011

Last update on January 25th, 2017