The following is excerpted from an article in the June 1980 National Geographic magazine: "Indonesia’s Orangutans: Living with the Great Orange Apes," by Biruté M. F. Galdikas, adjunct associate professor of anthropology, University of New Mexico. Her son, Binti, was born at their research camp and lived there until he was three years old.
Bin’s development during the first year helped clear up my own thinking. Up to that point most of my adult life in the forest had been orangutans and more orangutans. … After five years of living with orangutans, I had reached the point where the line between human and ape was getting somewhat blurred.
Sometimes I felt as though I were surrounded by wild, unruly children in orange suits who had not yet learned their manners. They used tools, liked to wear bits and pieces of clothing, loved to indulge in junk food and candies, were insatiably curious, wanted constant affection and attention, expressed emotions such as anger and embarrassment in a manner seemly very similar to human beings.
Further, laboratory studies that indicated apes could use sign language and were capable of complex reasoning made me wonder. I was actually beginning to doubt whether orangutans were all that different from human beings.
But Bin’s behavior in his first year highlighted the differences very clearly, and offered me a new perspective. At the same time I was hand raising Princess, a 1- to 2-year-old orangutan female. A 1-year-old orangutan merely clings to its mother (or me in this case), showing little interest in things other than to chew on them or put them on its head. For Princess the main interest in life seemed to be sustenance. This trait would continue throughout life; orangutans are extremely food oriented.
Bin, on the other hand, was not particularly food oriented; in fact, unless he was very hungry, he gave all his food to Princess. He was also fascinated by objects and implements and would watch in great concentration whenever Rod or I, or an orangutan for that matter, used one of them. He was constantly manipulating objects. Another major difference was that Bin babbled constantly, while Princess was silent except when squealing.
I found it fascinating that many of the traits associated with the emergence of humankind were already expressed in Bin’s development before the age of 1: bipedal locomotion, food sharing, tool using, speech. These differentiated him sharply from an orangutan of equivalent age. I knew from my experience … that orangutans were capable of such behavior at a later age, but it never developed as fully.