The Atlantic

Captive Orangutans Are Curious (But Wild Ones Are Not)

Life with humans turns these naturally incurious apes into explorers and better problem-solvers. That might provide clues to our own evolution.
Source: Edgar Su / Reuters

When Carel van Schaik reached the top of his rope ladder, his first thought was: “Oh shit, there’s an orangutan here.”

He was trying to measure the climate in the canopy of the Sumatran rain forest, using sensors that he had hoisted into the treetops. The devices were incredibly delicate: “You’d touch them and they’d break,” van Schaik recalls. So when he saw an orangutan ambling around, he feared the worst.

Fortunately, the animal was completely uninterested in the equipment. Van Schaik was surprised. It didn’t jibe with the behavior he saw in rehabilitation centers, where orangutans are rescued or confiscated from smugglers, and cared for in captivity. There, the

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