Orangutans in Zoos Enjoy Watching You, Too

Photo via Ruth Flickr

There's nothing quite like a visit to the zoo for catching a glimpse of some of the world's most fascinating animals--but, as it turns out, we're not the only ones who enjoy a little interspecies gawking. Researchers from Australia's Melbourne Zoo discovered that orangutans, among the cleverest of our primate cousins, are quite fond of people-watching. Whether it be our oddly sparse body hair, the strange, upright way we walk, or the colorful cloths we all seem to be draped in, it seems orangutans just can't get enough of us.

orangutan staring at camera photo
Photo via macinate

According to The Telegraph, researchers once thought having too many zoo guests ogling at the orangutans might be bumming them out, but it seems they get a kick out of staring right back at us.

To find this out, researchers installed a curtain that covered half of the orangutan viewing area so, if they wanted to, the animals could avoid prying eyes. But, as opposed to relishing the privacy, the orangutans continued to position themselves in front of the open portion of window where they could be seen by zoo visitors--and where they could watch them just the same.

Professor Paul Hemsworth, one of the researchers involved in the study, to The Telegraph:

If the orangutans find visitors stressful we would expect them to spend less time on the open half of the window and more time facing away from it. But we found the opposite-they were attracted to the open window, spent more time being in front of it and more time directly looking at it, which suggests that humans are attractive to orangutans.

While this behavior suggests to researchers that "visitors may be preferred stimuli for orangutans," it may be impossible to know for certain what compels this interest. Perhaps we're just as strange and as fascinating to them as they are to us. And who knows, maybe this experiment confirmed that suspicion for them as well, since it's likely no human onlookers stayed behind the curtain either.

One can only ponder the implications this study has on the relationship between us and our primate cousins, many of which, like orangutans, are endangered. After all, we may not be the only ones clever and curious enough to appreciate a peek at other species. On the contrary, we're just the only ones paying admission.

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