How Smart Are Orangutans?

Orangutans are considered highly intelligent primates and share 96.4% of their DNA with humans. Some scientists believe that they may be as smart as human toddlers. They can remember things for long periods with an excellent memory. But how smart are orangutans exactly?

Orangutans are remarkably smart creatures. They can learn by watching others without instruction. They have been observed to use tools (hammers, screwdrivers), wash clothes, brush teeth, make and use complex nests, use damp rags to cool themselves, show problem-solving capacity, and even remember faces.

Let’s look at various studies conducted to test their intelligence. 

Orangutan baby relaxing on the grass

Studies That Have Shown Orangutans Smartness

It is hard to judge how smart an orangutan is because they cannot speak like humans. 

However, there have been several studies conducted that have looked at their cognitive abilities and compared them to other animals.

1. Chantek Learned To Communicate With Humans Using Sign Language

Chantek was an orangutan who was rejected by his mother as a baby. He was then raised like a human child dressed in nappies and romper suits. This was done to test whether an ape could learn human behavior.

Dr. Miles, who was raising Chantek, taught him sign language. By nine months, Chantek could sign words and thoughts like “gimme-drink” and “food-eat.” 

This is pretty amazing because most human babies at nine months old cannot say anything.

2. Jingga the Bornean Orangutans Laughing at Magic Trick

A video of an orangutan laughing at a magic trick went viral on the internet a few years ago. This just shows how much they can understand and how perceptive they are.

The orangutan in the video is named Jingga and lives at the Blackpool Zoo. She was shown a magic trick where a ball disappears and reappears in a cup. Jingga was clearly amused by this and laughed out loud.

Orangutan finds magic trick hilarious

This video just goes to show how smart orangutans are. They can understand things humans do and have a great sense of humor.

3. Rambo Driving a Golf Cart

In the video, Rambo is driving a golf cart around the property. She doesn’t seem to be going very fast, but she is definitely in control of the vehicle.

Famous orangutan driving a golf cart

Rambo lives at the menagerie, a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition, of Sheikha Fatima Rashed Al Maktoum, daughter of the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

She’s clearly been taught how to drive by someone because she is very comfortable behind the wheel.

4. Orangutans Recognise Themselves in the Mirror

In another study, it was shown that orangutans could recognize themselves in the mirror.

Orangutans were put in front of a mirror and had a dot of paint placed on their forehead. The orangutans then looked at themselves in the mirror and touched the spot of paint. 

This showed that they could recognize themselves in the mirror.

Orangutan Recognises Himself! | Extraordinary Animals | BBC Earth

The study also found that orangutans use their reflection to check for things they cannot see, such as food or dirt on their face.

5. Orangutans Tool Making Abilities

Another study showcased orangutans’ impressive tool-making and problem-solving skills. 

The first challenge was to take a piece of straight wire and make a hook out of it so they could retrieve a basket from the bottom of a vertical tube.

The second challenge required them to do just the opposite-inserting a straight piece of wire into a horizontal tube containing food to get at it.

The orangutans were successful in both tasks, showing that they could use their hands and minds to create tools to help them solve problems.

These studies just go to show how smart orangutans are. They can communicate with humans, understand humor, and use their hands and minds to create tools. 

Orangutans are definitely some of the smartest animals on the planet.

Orangutan with stick in his mouth

How Do Orangutans Compare To Other Animals In Terms Of Smartness?

Orangutans are definitely up there in terms of smartness, but how do they compare to other animals? 

Let’s compare them to some of the other primates regarding intelligence.

Orangutans vs Gorillas

  • Orangutans and gorillas don’t vary greatly in terms of intelligence. However, some experts believe that orangutans are the smarter of the two species. This is largely because orangutans are known for their abstract thought and problem-solving capacity, while gorillas are not. 
  • Orangutans can learn human sign language, while gorillas have not. Overall, orangutans are considered to be more intelligent than gorillas. 

Orangutans vs Dolphins

  • Both creatures are extremely intelligent and have unique qualities that make them fascinating. However, it is difficult to compare the intelligence of two species in this way.
  • Orangutans are considered one of the most intelligent species of primates, while dolphins are considered one of the most intelligent species of mammals. Both animals are known for their clever behavior and complex thinking skills.
  • However, in some respects, orangutans may be slightly brighter than dolphins. For example, orangutans are better at using tools, communicating, and remembering things than dolphins.

Orangutans vs Chimpanzee

  • Orangutans and chimpanzees are two of the most intelligent species of primates. They are both fascinating creatures that have many interesting qualities.
  • Chimpanzees are considered to be more aggressive than orangutans, and they also have a shorter lifespan in the wild. Orangutans, on the other hand, are known for their intelligence and long lives.
  • Chimpanzees are also better at using tools than orangutans. Orangutans are better at communicating and remembering things than chimpanzees. Overall, orangutans and chimpanzees share many similarities, but they also have some distinct differences.

Orangutan vs Humans

  • Orangutans are often compared to humans when it comes to intelligence. This is because they share many similarities with us, such as having a large brain, a long life span, and the ability to use tools.
  • Both are known for their clever behavior and complex thinking skills. They share many similarities in terms of their intelligence, such as their ability to think abstractly and use tools. Orangutans are more solitary creatures than humans.
  • However, there are also some important differences between orangutan intelligence and human intelligence. For example, orangutans are better at short-term memory tasks than humans. They have also been shown to be better at spatial memory tasks, such as remembering where objects are located.
  • One area where humans seem to have an advantage over orangutans is language. Orangutans can learn human sign language but cannot produce the same vocalizations as humans. This may be because their vocal cords are not as flexible as ours, and their mouths have not developed for speech.
Orangutan in wildlife rehabilitation centre in Malaysia

Final Thoughts On Orangutan Intelligence

Orangutans are some of the smartest animals on the planet. They can communicate with humans, understand humor, and use their hands and minds to create tools. 

Orangutans are an amazing species, and we should all do our part to protect them before it is too late.

FAQs

Can Orangutans Speak?

Orangutans can learn human sign language but cannot produce the same vocalizations as humans. This may be because their vocal cords are not as flexible as ours, and their mouths have not developed for speech.

Do Orangutans Live in Groups?

Orangutans are very solitary animals. The only time they typically come together is to mate.

Are Orangutans Voilent?

Orangutans are not typically violent but can be aggressive when threatened. They may also be aggressive when competing for food or territory.

Do Orangutans Have Emotions?

Just like humans, orangutans experience a range of emotions. They can feel happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and love. For example, mothers have been known to be very protective of their young. They will often use their bodies to shield their babies from danger.