Oct 27, 2010

In Search of the Red Ape

by John McKinnon

When John McKinnon set off into the forests of Borneo and Sumatra to study orangutans, little was known about the large apes. Secretive and solitary, they are hard to find in the dense jungles, but McKinnon taught himself how to survive in the tropical wilderness, spending nights out in the forest tracking individual orangutans for days at a time (which shocked the natives who helping him in camp; they were terrified of being in the forest after dark). He learned the terrain well, and became known among the natives as an "animal magician" and among other researchers and tourists as one would could always find the orangutans. McKinnon describes some of his encounters with the orangutans, as well as myriads of other exotic animals, including lots of other primates, snakes, elephants and beautiful birds. He was particularly interested in studying how orangutans co-existed with other primates that used the same food supply, like the siamang (a type of gibbon).

One thing really jumped out at me in the text. At one point the author describes seeing older, very large adult male orangutans who were too heavy to travel in the trees. Instead they walked upright on the forest floor. Later in the book he talks about a mysterious animal the villagers feared called batutut, supposedly a black, hairy upright primate that left large footprints. McKinnnon himself reported seeing orangutans with very dark hair, brown or almost black. My mind immediately made a connection. I'm surprised that the author himself didn't wonder if batutut was nothing more than a large, ground-dwelling male orangutan. Anyone else think that's probable?

Well, if you're interested in orangutans, this is a fairly good read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 222 pages, 1974

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