While Siri may tell us humans where to go, orangutans give directions through a series of sounds interpreted just like a map — and the apes often plan their route in advance, plotting the details the day before travel.
It’s a long-held myth that all animals live purely in the moment, lacking the sense of future that people possess; but a study of Sumatran orangutans published in PLOS One shows that orangutans not only contemplate future plans, but communicate them to others who retain the information longer than many humans can remember the words “turn left at stoplight.”
The study followed 15 orangutans and found that after choosing a route, the males emitted long calls to help their female friends follow them and to warn other males to stay out of the way.
“This guy basically thinks ahead,” said study author Carel van Schaik, director of the Anthropological Institute at the University of Zurich. “They’re continuously updating their Google Maps, so to speak. Based on that, they’re planning what to do next.”
He also said, “This shows they are very much like us in this respect. Our earliest hominid ancestor must have done the same thing.”
As enlightening as these findings are, they still don’t tell us if apes are capable of planning in the long-term, or how the animals may ponder the future. But the study does remind us that we aren’t so different from the creatures who walk the earth with us — and the more we study them, the more we seem to find in common.
Image by ucumari