The Babyhood of Wild Beasts/Chapter 2

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baby orang-utans

OF all our wonderful animal kingdom none attracts so much attention as the great apes. They so nearly approach man in habits, manners, appetites and mimicry that they really seem very human.

The Orang-Utans stand at the head of the animal class for intelligence and are equalled only by the chimpanzees.

A baby Orang is a very close approximation of a human baby. The Orang mother carries her baby in her arms. She coddles, pets and loves him in every conceivable way. She is very particular that he does not get injured nor eat any food that may disagree with him. I saw a small boy pass a baby Orang a peanut. The little fellow took it in his human looking hand and was about to eat it when his mother snatched it from him and destroyed it. She chattered and scolded him and it was evident by his manner that she told him it wasn't good for him.

The Orang baby is big-headed, innocent-eyed and gentle in manner. They crave affection and suffer without it. The more attention and petting they receive, the better they thrive. Love is the eternal supply needed to level all their sorrows as well as ours. Orangs like human beings. They cling to those they love and are morose and melancholy when away from the object of their affections.

The Orang-Utan comes from Borneo and Sumatra. Its name is pure Malay and means "jungle man." It is appropriate, for the creatures live in the trees and enjoy life to its fullest possible extent. Old Orang is easily recognized by his brown skin, red hair and little ears. He is long-armed, short-legged and pot-bellied, and looks like a burlesque of an Irish comedian.

He is full of fun as a "barrel of monkeys." I have observed the antics of these animals and nearly all of them are supported by good sound sense.

One day I watched "Baldy," a very clever Orang, try to open the door of his cage. His keeper had just fed him. He had unlocked the cage with his keys, put the food within, relocked the door and departed. "Baldy" watched him intently during these operations. After the keeper had disappeared he took two straws, twisted them into the crude likeness of a key, inserted them in the lock and turned them several times. Then he tried the door and seemed surprised that it did not open. He repeated the performance and was disappointed because it would not work. This big fellow was full of mimicry.

A learned gentleman paused before his cage, adjusted his eyeglasses and carefully observed him. "Baldy" quickly snatched a nearby newspaper, tore a strip from its pages and with his finger punched two holes in it. He held it across his eyes, peering quizzically at the gentleman, who beat a hasty exit.

In disposition they are gentle and affectionate, exceedingly fond of human beings and take to training like a duck to water. It is a pity the anthropoid (man-like) apes do not live long in captivity. Rarely an Orang is seen 4 feet tall, weighing 150 pounds. Homesickness is the chief cause of their early deaths.

The big apes require a variety of food as do human beings. Flesh, fish and fowl, with liberal portions of eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables, make up their diet. They are very fond of soups and nuts. The Orangs are easily taught to take soup from a spoon. They feed themselves readily, man-fashion, and can use a knife and fork with ease.

In the wild state they eat all kinds of wild fruit, leaves, nuts, birds and birds' eggs. Orangs are easily taught to wear the clothing of humans, to drink from cups and bottles, to smoke cigars, drink intoxicating liquor, skate on roller skates, ride bicycles, walk a tight rope or slack wire. They learn these things in two or three weeks' time.

"The largest specimen on record stood 4 feet 6 inches in height, measured 42 inches around the chest, and between finger tips stretched 8 feet. The hand is 11½ inches long, the foot 13½ inches, but the width across the palm is only 3¾ inches. The weight of a large, full grown
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male Orang is about 250 pounds." (Hornaday.)

These animals live wholly in the tree tops and seldom descend to the ground except for water. They cannot leap from bough to bough as do monkeys, because of their great weight; but swing underneath the branches with their long powerful arms in much the same manner as Seminole Indians travel through the Everglades.

When the Orangs are home in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo they make a nest to sleep upon by breaking the leafy branches of trees, and laying them cross-wise in the top of a forked sapling. In this big nest it lies flat on its back and is rocked to sleep in its leafy cradle while in repose it grasps a branch in each hand and foot.

Unless attacked at close range in the forest the great apes are not dangerous to man. When attacked they fight like human toughs, by biting and scratching. They do not fight with clubs, as has been reported. When fighting each other the old males bite chunks out of the faces and the fingers and toes of their adversaries.

The Orang-Utan, Chimpanzee and Gorilla are our three largest apes. The Orang is brown-skinned, like the Malays are in the country he comes from; while the Chimpanzee and Gorilla are black-skinned, like the natives of Africa, which is their habitat.