Tetrapod Zoology

Encounters with gigantic orangutans

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Over the past couple of months I’ve been reading John MacKinnon’s In Search of the Red Ape (Collins, 1974) – one of the first books anyone reads whenever they want to learn about orangutans. The book is stuffed full of anecdotes and other natural history tales about Borneo and Sumatra, and it seems that MacKinnon (who, these days, is best known for his association with the discovery of the Saola Pseudoryx nghetinensis in Vietnam (MacKinnon 2000, Van Dung et al. 1993, 1994)) encountered just about every creature you could hope to encounter in the tropical jungles of the region… yes, even the enigmatic orang-pendek (or its tracks, at least).

Anyway, one particular section of the book really stands out for me: the bit where MacKinnon catches sight of a gigantic, terrestrially walking male orangutan…

I was nearly home when I saw a terrifying spectacle. For a moment I thought it was a trick of my vision. A huge, black orang-utan was walking along the path towards me. I had never seen such a large animal even in a zoo. He must have weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. Hoping that he had not noticed me, I dived behind a large tree. I was in no state to defend myself, or run from him should he come for me, and I could recall clearly the natives’ terrible stories about old, ground-living orangs. I held my breath as the monster passed within a few feet of me and let him get about forty yards ahead before I followed in pursuit. He was enormous, as black as a gorilla but with his back almost bare of hair; Ivan the Terrible was the only name I could think of. (MacKinnon 1974, p. 54)

‘Ivan’ was an efficient, speedy walker and preferred not to climb. MacKinnon doesn’t state whether ‘Ivan’ was walking quadrupedally or bipedally, but remember that orangutans are highly capable bipeds, and indeed work on their energetics shows that they are more efficient (in terms of wattage/kilo) at it than we are (for more on this see Bipedal orangs, gait of a dinosaur, and new-look Ichthyostega: exciting times in functional anatomy part I). It seems that giant male orangs that become too heavy for an easy life in the trees descend to the ground, and often walk upright and bipedally (though they presumably use their hands for regular support).

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What makes MacKinnon’s report particularly interesting is that it isn’t the only report of an unusually large, ground-walking orang on record (Kaplan & Rogers 2000). Among other contemporary primatologists, Biruté Galdikas is also on record as having seen an exceptionally large orangutan walking on the ground. In fact, there’s a whole chapter devoted to such animals in Chad Arment’s 2004 book Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation, and I’ve unashamedly plundered from it here. Arment (2004) discusses the fact that 19th century scientists had a rather confused view of orangutan systematics: they knew that people on Borneo and elsewhere used different names for different ‘kinds’ of orangs, and they wondered whether these different ‘kinds’ corresponded to species [flanged male Bornean orang shown here, photographed at Louisville Zoo. From wikipedia].

Huxley, for example, referred in 1877 to the Mias Pappan or Zimo, Mias Kassu and Mias Rambi, noting ‘Whether there are distinct species, however, or whether they are mere races, and how far any of them are identical with the Sumatran Orang … are problems which are at present undecided; and the variability of these great apes is so extensive, that the settlement of the question is a matter of great difficulty’. Damn, Hux was smart. The binomial Pongo wurmbii Tiedermann, 1808 was sometimes used for the Mias Pappan, and this name still survives as one of the subspecies of the Borean orangutan Pongo pygmaeus. However, it’s not clear that all ‘Mias Pappan’ individuals belonged to P. p. wurmbii. Incidentally, it’s been suggested both that P. p. wurmbii might be as distinct from other Bornean orangs as P. abelii (Sumatran orang) is, and that it might be even more closely related to P. abelii than it is to the rest of P. pygmaeus (Groves et al. 1992). If true, orangutan taxonomy would perhaps need revision, as wurmbii (named 1808) predates abelii (named 1827). Genetic work does not support this proposal, however, with Borean orang populations exhibiting relatively little genetic variation (Lu et al. 1996) [image below, taken by Andi Ramadhan, shows a Sumatran orang (and a man) at Bukit Lawang orang sanctuary. Note the stiff-legged bipedal pose].

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In an 1846 account of his visit to Borneo, Captian Henry Keppel referred to the relatively enormous Mias Pappan, noting that it was not only very large compared to other orangs, but also difficult to procure. What makes Keppel’s account particularly interesting is that he obtained a hand from one of these allegedly gigantic creatures. ‘This hand far exceeds in length, breadth, and power, the hand of any man in the ship; and though smoked and shrunk, the circumference of the fingers is half as big again as an ordinary human finger’ (Keppel 1846, Arment 2004). Without measurements available, I find it difficult to determine how exceptional this specimen really was, as I imagine that the hand of a large, mature adult orang is larger and longer than that of a large man anyway.

Keppel also referred in passing to a giant orang killed on Sumatra. Arment (2004) tracked this account down: it was first published in Clarke Abel’s Asiatic Researches and was also written about by Broderip (1849). A party of men landed on Ramboon on the north-west Sumatran coast, and here encountered a large male orangutan. The animal was pursued both on the ground, and while it climbed about in the branches, and it took a long time and a pretty horrendous amount of shooting, spearing and stoning for the creature to be killed. Like others who have killed non-human apes…

‘Those who aided in this slaughter acknowledged that they were distressed by the human-like expression of his countenance, the piteous manner in which he applied his hands to his wounds, and the whole bearing of the dying combatant. They confessed that the sight was such as almost to make them question the nature of the act they were committing’ (Abel, in Arment 2004, p. 206).

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Anyway, the big deal about this poor animal is that, when measured, it was found to be absolutely enormous: ‘seven feet in what might be called his ordinary standing posture, and eight feet when suspended for the purpose of being skinned’. Abel measured the skin and concluded that the animal’s standing height was 6 ft 6½ in (1.9 m). The hand – measured from the wrist to the tip of the middle finger – was 30 cm long, and the foot 35 cm long. Standing heights for orangs are typically given as 1.36 m for males (Groves 1971), so an animal of this size would be truly exceptional. The world record standing height for a gorilla is given as 1.95 m for an Eastern lowland gorilla Gorilla beringei graueri collected in 1938, though there’s an unconfirmed record of another individual, shot in 1932, that was 2.06 m tall (Carwardine 1995). To get at least a rough idea of what a very tall orang might look like, I knocked up the adjacent image. The human in the image is 1.7 m tall.

The good news is that this giant Sumatran orang was deposited in the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, the zoological collection of which was later absorbed into that of the Indian Society at Kolkata. Arment (2004) speculated that the specimen might have been sent from here to Britain. The giant hand that Keppel wrote about is also supposed to have gone into a museum, as was a very large skull that Keppel also wrote about. However, we don’t know where these specimens are now, and Arment urged ‘British and French investigators with contacts at the British Museum [now The Natural History Museum], the Royal Asiatic Society, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and any other pertinent collections, to determine if these specimens were ever accessioned’ (Arment 2004, p. 208). I haven’t done this, despite the fact that I know primatologists who have worked on accessioned ape material in the collections of the NHM and elsewhere. Colin Groves might be a good person to ask, but I don’t know him.

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Carwardine (1995) referred to a Bornean orang said to be 1.8 m in standing height, which again would be exceptional and well within ‘record’ range. I haven’t found any further references to this individual (Carwardine doesn’t provide any details), but I haven’t really looked that hard. Wikipedia’s orangutan page says that males can reach 1.75 m [wikipedia's diagram of a large male orang compared to a 1.8 m tall human shown here].

While the animals mentioned here are best interpreted as exceptional, world-record examples of their species, you may know that, once upon a time, orangutans approaching or even exceeding 2 m in height were apparently not so extraordinary. Fossils of extinct orangutans from Sumatra and from the Asian mainland represent animals this size, and it seems (from the remains we have) that sizes of this sort were typical and certainly not unusual. Were these large extinct forms (the taxonomic status of which is currently ambiguous) predominantly terrestrial? MacKinnon (1974) thought so, and suggested that they ‘probably ranged on the ground, like modern gorillas, in large bands, protected by enormous males’ (p. 212).

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Based on what we know of fossils and of the prehistoric distribution of orangutans (they were previously present in subtropical woodland and montane forests, and were not necessarily tropical apes), MacKinnon further speculated that the relatively small size and arboreal habits of modern orangs are recent specialisations. Whether this is true or not (so far as I know, no-one has looked at the hypothesis in detail), note that it has nothing to do with the restriction of orangs to Borneo and/or Sumatra: it now seems that Bornean and Sumatran orangs diverged about 1.1 million years ago (though there are also estimates positing their divergence at 3.4 million years ago: see Warren et al. 2001), meaning that the two species were distinct even before Sumatra and Borneo became isolated from the Malaysian mainland (this happened in the Middle Pleistocene, about 300,000 years ago) [adjacent map, from Warren et al. (2001), shows inferred migratory routes of orangs into Borneo and Sumatra prior to their separation from each other, and from the mainland].

Can we really verify the presence of modern orangutans nearly 2 m tall? And could such animals still be around today?

For previous Tet Zoo articles on apes and other primates see…

Refs – -

Arment, C. 2004. Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation. Coachwhip Publications, Landisville, Pennsylvania.

Broderip, W. J. 1849. Zoological Recreations. Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia.

Carwardine, M. 1995. The Guinness Book of Animal Records. Guinness Publishing, Enfield, Middlesex.

Groves, C. P. 1971. Pongo pygmaeus. Mammalian Species 4, 1-6.

- ., Westwood, C. & Shea, B. T. 1992. Unfinished business: mahalanobis and a clockwork orang. Journal of Human Evolution 22, 327-340.

Kaplan, G. & Rogers, L. J. 2000. The Orangutans. Perseus Publications, Cambridge (Mass.).

Keppel, H. 1846. The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy. Harper & Bros, New York.

Lu, Z., Karesh, W. B., Janczewski, D. N., Frazier-Taylor, H., Sajuthi, D., Gombek, F., Andau, M., Martenson, J. S. & O’Brien, S. J. 1996. Genomic differentiation among natural populations of orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus). Current Biology 6, 1326-1336.

MacKinnon, J. 1974. In Search of the Red Ape. Collins, London.

- . 2000. New mammals in the 21st century? Annals of Missouri Botanical Garden 87, 63-66.

Warren, K. S., Verschoor, E. J., Langenhuijzen, S., Heriyanto, Swan, R. A., Vigilant, L. & Heeney, J. L. 2001. Speciation and intrasubspecific variation of Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. Molecular Biology and Evolution 18, 472-480.

Van Dung, V., Giao, P. M., Chinh, N. N., Tuoc, D., Arctander, P. & MacKinnon, J. 1993. A new species of living bovid from Vietnam. Nature 363, 443-445.

- ., Giao, P. M., Chinh, N. N., Tuoc, D. & MacKinnon, J. 1994. Discovery and conservation of the Vu Quang ox in Vietnam. Oryx 28, 16-21.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanović
    December 14, 2009

    <Spock>Fascinating.</Spock> Sasquatch lives, just not on the right continent (so far)…

    Ivan the Terrible was the only name I could think of.

    Fitting, because he’s “threatening” rather than “terrible” in the original. Has occasionally been translated as John the Dread.

    Biruté

    It’s pronounced like the French é, but for (presumably) some reason the Lithuanians use a dot instead of an accent: ė.

  2. #2 Dartian
    December 14, 2009

    I remember that black orangutan passage from MacKinnon’s book; it was pretty remarkable to read.

    What makes MacKinnon’s report particularly interesting is that it isn’t the only report of an unusually large, ground-walking, bipedal orang on record

    Are all such reports from Borneo, or are there any from Sumatra too? There are still – barely – tigers on the latter island, but not on the former (although there were tigers on Borneo too in the Pleistocene). Leopards in Africa are known to have killed adult male gorillas, so surely a Sumatran tiger is more than capable of dispatching a lone, terrestrial male orangutan, no matter how large?

  3. #3 Cameron
    December 14, 2009

    Wikipedia’s graphic of orangutan size is very odd; the arms seem too short, resulting in a posture that is about 20-30 degrees off from this. Also, why the hell is it walking on its palms?

    Where did MacKinnon see the giant black orangutan? Eastern Borneo has a population with black hair, but of course there is the chance that there are/were more populations with that trait. Orangutans seem to get darker hair as they age, but never outright black.

    I refrained from mentioning this in the last post regarding orangutan bipedalism, but what the hell, Gigantopithecus. The possibility that it locomoted in a way similar to large orangutans is tantalizing (especially to one crowd), but I have the feeling that at 500+ kg it would be more efficient to primarily use quadrupedal locomotion.

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    December 14, 2009

    Thanks much for comments. David: most sources continue to write Biruté with an acute accent, but I’m sure you’re right. Dartian: it seems that big, ground-walking orangs have been seen both on Borneo and Sumatra. MacKinnon’s sighting was made in Sabah. One might ‘expect’ Sumatran orangs to be more likely to develop into terrestrial giants, given that they are more prone to bipedalism that Bornean orangs, and appear better suited for it (they adopt a fully plantigrade posture, whereas Bornean orangs can’t and apparently always bear some of their weight on the outside edge of the foot).

    Cameron: very dark orangutans, described as black, are on record and were reported from the Sibolga region on the western coast of Sumatra. And I agree that the wikipedia graphic is way off. As for Gigantopithecus… dammit we need more info!

  5. #5 Brian
    December 14, 2009

    I had no idea orangs could get that black, large, terrestrial or bipedal!
    On a sidenote, I recall Alfred Russell Wallace describing the size of many orangs he shot (though I can’t remember any giants among them) and find it interesting that he mentions how another hunter on Sumatra ‘had shot an orang he had poorly measured, resulting in arms being reported as much shorter compared to body length than ever possible for an orang’. While it is possible his measuring was poor, I’ve always wondered wether that particular hunter might not have shot an orang-pendek.

  6. #6 Hai~Ren
    December 14, 2009

    I’m just intrigued by the prehistoric orangutans. Giants, you say? And I’m wondering what factors led to them becoming extinct in mainland Asia.

  7. #7 Bill
    December 14, 2009

    What did McKinnon have to say about the Orang pendek?

  8. #8 shiva
    December 14, 2009

    Could orangutans have become smaller and more arboreal as a result of hunting or persecution by humans?

    An orang the size of a large gorilla sounds very scary indeed, as well as obviously very interesting from a cryptozoological perspective. IIRC, there were cryptid (bipedal?) apes reported in Vietnam by US military personnel in the 1960s and 70s, known as “rock apes”, and there’s a native Vietnamese name for a cryptid ape as well. I’m not sure how big those apes were, but i think they were found in forested areas, but seemingly more terrestrial than arboreal (as “rock ape” suggests).

    There’s also this theory that either an introduced population of orangutans or an unknown orang-like pongid in Brazil might be responsible for the cryptid Mapinguari (more often theorised as a relict ground sloth). I think a pongid could survive in Brazil, but the massive hole is obviously how they got there.

    Re orang pendek, Darren, i’d be very interested in your opinion on a) whether it exists and b) whether it’s a hominid or a pongid. From stuff i’ve read, older (early 20th century) reports of orang pendek describe a much more humanlike (c. 1.5m tall with black hair and in some reports very long head hair like a modern human, generally sounding a lot like Homo erectus or H. floresiensis) animal than more recent reports, which describe a more pongid-like (c. 1m tall, red or brown fur of similar length all over its body) creature, with a face described as more similar to Pan or Gorilla than either Homo or Pongo.

  9. #9 Alan
    December 14, 2009

    I recall reading a history of Orangutans in zoos which mentions that some of the earliest seen by westerners were captives in Java, although whether these were Sumatrans (probably) or possibly the last native Javan orangutans is not known. I believe there are remains from Vietnam that are post-glacial, so I suspect they survived long enough to become incorporated into local folklore.

  10. #10 Anome
    December 14, 2009

    Can we really be sure it wasn’t just a gorilla that got lost somewhere?

    OK, we probably can. Maybe it was just a genetic freak like Oliver the Humanzee, or that brain damaged babboon that walked upright.

  11. #11 Zach Miller
    December 14, 2009

    Relatively off-topic question: What are those big fleshy pads around the eyes of the orang at the top of the post? And what’s the big fleshy pad below its chin? Is that a variable feature among individuals or sexes? What’s it for?

  12. #12 Blackbird
    December 14, 2009
  13. #13 Chris Clark
    December 14, 2009

    Very interesting. I always imagined orang pendek to be derived from an orangutan population that became isolated and discovered a terrestrial lifestyle; now it seems possible that it simply reverted to (or retained) an ancestral behaviour. Incidentally, heights close to 1.5 m are as common in witness reports as the 1 m height; I suppose this is just the sexual dimorphism seen in orangutans.
    As for rock apes seen in Vietnam by US soldiers: isn’t it time someone fighting in Afghanistan saw (or even shot) a barmanu somewhere in the mountains?

  14. #14 Unamused
    December 14, 2009

    Fascinating post/article, Mr, Naish. I’ve been looking for a high-quality biology blog that is open to cryptozoological topics without being overly credulous or supernatural-minded, and I believe I’ve found just what I was seeking here. Looking forward to reading your future entries as well as catching up on the topics posted in the past.

    [quote]Relatively off-topic question: What are those big fleshy pads around the eyes of the orang at the top of the post? And what’s the big fleshy pad below its chin? Is that a variable feature among individuals or sexes? What’s it for?[/quote]

    Facial pads are a male orangutan trait that develop when they reach maturity, along with sort of ‘pouches’ of bumpy skin on their upper chest that you noticed. Seems to be basic sexual dimorphism at work, although there may well be a purpose for them of which I’m unaware.

  15. #15 Dartian
    December 15, 2009

    Further random-ish orangutan comments.

    Darren (or rather John MacKinnon):

    Ivan the Terrible was the only name I could think of. (MacKinnon 1974, p. 54)

    I don’t have my copy of MacKinnon’s book at hand at the moment; what year did he have the encounter with this bipedal orangutan? If it was later than 1968, I think he should have named it ‘Dr. Zaius’.

    Keppel, H. 1846. The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy.

    Exactly what it says on the tin, eh? Out of curiosity, did they manage to suppress the pirates?

    very dark orangutans, described as black, are on record

    Are there any such individuals in zoos anywhere? The wild(?) one in the photo that Blackbird linked to is indeed much darker than orangutans usually are, but it isn’t quite gorilla black, IMO. Wanna see black orang pix!

    Shiva:

    with black hair and in some reports very long head hair like a modern human, generally sounding a lot like Homo erectus or H. floresiensis

    AFAIK, we have no evidence whatsoever that either Homo erectus or H. floresiensis had ‘black’, ‘long head hair like a modern human’. Let’s keep that in mind before we start matching cryptids with specific fossil taxa…

    a more pongid-like [...] creature, with a face described as more similar to Pan or Gorilla than either Homo or Pongo.

    It’s a bit misleading to refer to chimpanzees or gorillas as ‘pongids’, as their inclusion in the traditional ‘great ape’ family Pongidae would make this taxon paraphyletic. Strictly speaking, among (known) extant taxa, only the orangutan can properly be called a ‘pongid’. (As for chimpanzees and gorillas, it would be much more correct to call them ‘hominids’.)

  16. #16 Dartian
    December 15, 2009

    Forgot to comment on this:

    One might ‘expect’ Sumatran orangs to be more likely to develop into terrestrial giants, given that they are more prone to bipedalism that Bornean orangs, and appear better suited for it (they adopt a fully plantigrade posture, whereas Bornean orangs can’t and apparently always bear some of their weight on the outside edge of the foot).

    That’s very interesting. I didn’t know that there were interspecific differences of that kind. Do you have a reference?

    Oh, and a little (more) nit-picking:

    Warren, K. S., Verschoor, E. J., Langenhuijzen, S., Heriyanto, Swan, R. A., Vigilant, L. & Heeney, J. L. 1993. Speciation and intrasubspecific variation of Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus. Molecular Biology and Evolution 18, 472-480.

    The year of publication is wrong: that paper is from 2001.

  17. #17 Tim Morris
    December 15, 2009

    You guys probably already know this. But the word Orang-utan translates directly from indonesian. “Orang” means person, and “hutan” means forest. So literally, “forest man”.

  18. #18 Dartian
    December 15, 2009

    Tim:

    the word Orang-utan translates directly from indonesian

    Isn’t it originally a Malay word? Bahasa Indonesia is derived from Malay, right?

  19. #19 Darren Naish
    December 15, 2009

    So many comments, so little time. Some responses…

    – The structures on the face and throat (comment 11) are, respectively, facial flanges (aka cheek pads) and throat pouch. Facial flanges are present in both Bornean and Sumatran orangs but differ in shape according to population. Their development is stunted if, apparently, the male grows up in the presence of a dominant individual. They are secondary sexual characteristics, appearing between 8 and 10 yrs of age and being fully developed by age 15-20. The throat pouch contains the laryngeal sac and is used in making tremendously loud vocalisations.

    – MacKinnon’s sighting (comment 15) of ‘Ivan’ was made in 1968, but yes I do understand your PotA reference :) On the term pongid, it is absolutely wrong to use it for chimps and gorillas, but it’s still ok to use it for the orangutan lineage (though some prefer ‘pongines’ as they still include them within Hominidae).

    – Differences between Bornean and Sumatran orangs (comment 16): different foot postures and walking styles were documented by MacKinnon (1975) and Mallinson (1978). The two are fairly different, probably more so than are chimpanzee and bonobo. Thanks for correction on Warren et al. citation. I got it right in the text, just not in the references.

    – Oh, and on orang-pendek (comment 8), I am fairly confident that it is real. More details some other time.

    Refs – -

    MacKinnon, J. R. 1975. Distinguishing characteristics of the insular forms of orangutan. International Zoo Yearbook 15, 195-197.

    Mallinson, J. C. 1978. “Cocktail” orangutans and the need to preserve purebred stock. Dodo 15, 69-77.

  20. #20 Bob Alderson
    December 15, 2009

    I think you’re making a serious mistake in assuming that MacKinnon’s giant orang was bipedal. He didn’t mention that in his passage because he probably thought people reading would assume that it moved quadrupedally like a normal-sized orang.

    Surely the sight like an enormous, 300 lb. bipedal ape walking in the forest would have merited explicit note of its bipedal nature.

  21. #21 Darren Naish
    December 15, 2009

    Bob – please see the paragraph that follows on from the MacKinnon quote near the start of the article. I had initially mis-remembered MacKinnon saying that ‘Ivan’ was bipedal, and later changed the text on realising that this was a mistake. However, some orangs do walk bipedally.

  22. #22 shiva
    December 15, 2009

    Apologies for my lazy usage of “pongid” to mean “non-hominin ape”; i knew it was inaccurate, but couldn’t think of a better term, and fell into the common-but-inaccurate usage on cryptozoology fora to distinguish between bipedal (eg. Sasquatch, Almasty) and knuckle-walking (eg. Skunk Ape) “hominid” cryptids. Is there a better term for “non-hominin ape”, or is “non-hominin ape” the best available (not that it’s that bad, considering the category is paraphyletic)?

    (In my defence, i am not a scientist, merely a humanities graduate with a lay interest in (crypto)zoology…)

    I’m also aware that we know nothing of the hair of H. erectus or H. floresiensis, but meant, although badly phrased, that the description of older orang pendek reports (eg. those found in Heuvelmans’ “On The Track”) were, in general, much more Homo-like (including facial structure, limb proportions, etc), and also in some reports had hair distribution closer to modern humans than other living apes (or intermediate between that of modern humans and other living apes), whereas more recent reports describe something significantly more like other living apes. Hadn’t thought of sexual dimorphism as explaining the size discrepancies, but it does sound plausible.

  23. #23 Dartian
    December 16, 2009

    Bill:

    What did M[a]cKinnon have to say about the Orang pendek?

    He found some strange footprints in the rainforest in Borneo. Read here (the locals there, by the way, called the creature ‘batutut’, not ‘orang pendek’).

    Shiva:

    Is there a better term for “non-hominin ape”

    Not really, which is a bit unfortunate.

    In my defence, i am not a scientist, merely a humanities graduate with a lay interest in (crypto)zoology

    Given its titular subject matter, Darren’s blog attracts a remarkably interdisciplinary readership. Which is only a good thing.

  24. #24 Richard Freeman
    December 16, 2009

    In my days as a zook keep i worked extensivly with orangs. The male Sumatran orangs habitualy walk on their hind legs when on the ground (leading some members of the public to think that they were yetis). The females are quadropeds. Toby, our big male, was at least as tall as me (5 foot 7). However i notoiced that they do use their arms for balance.
    Those who might be tempted to explain away orang-pendek as a ground living Sumatran orang should note that orang-pendek never desplays the cheek flanges of the orang-utan and is generaly black or ‘honey’ coloured. I have examined orang-pendek prints and they are un-like those of orang-utans or indeed any other ape (i saw gorilla, orang, and chimp prints every day of my life at one time). Orang-pendek tracks desplay a long, human like heel with a wider more ape like front part to the foot. The big toe is well seperated but notably less prehensile than other apes. Dave Archer one of the witnesses on the 2009 Sumatran expedition i was part of, described the hair and shape of the orang-pendek’s head as being more like a mountain gorilla than an orang-utan.

  25. #25 Richard Freeman
    December 16, 2009

    Bloody hell that last post was badly spelt. Sorry abot that i wrote it in a hurry!

  26. #26 Richard Freeman
    December 16, 2009

    Sod it, that’s twice! I mean about not abot.

  27. #27 Richard Zimmerman
    December 17, 2009

    Great post…. I came across it quite randomly and really enjoyed reading it! I’d like to invite you to visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more about the crisis facing orangutans.

    Orangutans are critically endangered in the wild because of rapid deforestation and the expansion of palm oil plantations. If nothing is done to better protect them, they will be extinct in just a few years.

    Orangutan Outreach
    http://redapes.org
    Reach out and save the orangutans!
    Facebook Cause: http://causes.com/redapes

  28. #28 arachnophile
    December 23, 2009

    Fascinating!

    I originally heard of orang-pendek from my love-affair with Skeptiod.com. I love that the author’s overall approach to crypto zoology which is much like your own. He admits to a child-like fascination with possibly fantasic creatures but tempers that with an uncompromising realism.

    Being skeptical is not about saying that creature X does not exist because… blah blah. No, it’s about looking at the weight of evidence and saying that it is unlikely barring new evidence.

    As in this case, so often humans are willing to interperet the incredible (which the natural world offers up all the time) as something either super-natural or “hidden.” In some ways it is sad. If more people spent any time in the company of a full-grown male orangutan in all of his glory, I rather think the species would be better respected.

    If you’ve not heard his podcast about big-foot reasearch I think you’d enjoy it Darren. :)

    - your loyal reader,

    spider-lover

    rambling… damn egg nog! I’d not have the courage to post here so much without it though. Before I fade back into lurker status I just want to thank you again for this amazing and educational blog!

  29. #29 Lim Tze Tshen
    June 25, 2010

    A piece of very interesting writing, though I’ve missed that and only manage to comment a bit so late. In the first chapter devoted to Borneo (Borneo: The Orangutan) in “The Malay Archipelago”, Alfred Russel Wallace had already discussed the same problem in depth (see only the last 4 paragraphs). He also touched upon Abel’s seven-footer and subsequent re-measurings of the same animal by other naturalists with an unsurprising ending to the whole event. Arment’s speculation (2004) that the remains of the giant Sumatran orangutan are in Britain remains unresolved. Having checked all the orangutan skulls kept in the London Natural History Museum, I failed to find any ‘giant’ skull that is from Sumatra (the one and only skull from Sumatra is of a regular sized female donated by Lord Zuckerman in 1928).

  30. #30 melissa
    May 20, 2011

    hi

  31. #31 DDeden
    May 20, 2011

    “Bahasa Indonesia is derived from Malay, right?” Dartian, both Malaysian and Indonesian use Bahasa Riau (eastern Sumatra) as their standard, with local historical-cultural influences of their own. Politically, they refer to their own version as authentic.

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