Among Orangutans: Red Apes and the Rise of Human Culture / Edition 1

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Overview

The local people know him as the "Man of the Forest," who refused to speak for fear of being put to work. And indeed the bear-like Sumatran orangutan, with his moon face, lanky arms, and shaggy red hair, does seem uncannily human; one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the orangutan may have much to tell us about the origins of human intelligence, technology, and culture. In this book one of the world's leading experts on Sumatran orangutans, working in collaboration with nature photographer Perry van Duijnhoven, takes us deep into the disappearing world of these captivating primates.

In a narrative that is part adventure, part field journal, part call to conscience, Carel van Schaik introduces us to the colorful characters and complex lives of the orangutans who inhabit the vanishing forests of Sumatra. In compelling words and pictures, we come to know the personalities and temperaments of our primate cousins as they go about their days: building double-decker tree nests; using leaves as napkins, gloves, rain hats, and blankets, and sticks as backscratchers and probes; nurturing their infants longer and more intensely than any other nonhuman mammal. Here are the births and deaths, the first use of a tool, the defeat of a rival, the gradual loss of influence that, while fascinating to observe, may also help us to reconstruct human evolution.

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Editorial Reviews

Scientific American

In a beautifully written, compelling narrative that reads like a detective story, [van Schaik] weaves together several threads of evidence to argue that orangutan intelligence is intimately related to technological innovations that are passed down through social learning...Through the large number of outstanding color photographs, we meet many of the 100 orangutans his team recognized individually. They are handsome creatures with long red hair, expressive faces and round eyes that gaze out of the photographs with keen awareness.
— Barbara Smuts

Nature

Required reading for anyone who wants to understand our nearest relatives, the great apes, in a world full of humans, and who believes that our cousins also deserve to live.
— Alison Jolly

New Scientist

Among Orangutans tells the story of van Schaik's discoveries, and their challenge to theories of primatology and the insights they offer into key moments in human evolution. Van Schaik covers the slog of six years' fieldwork in mosquito-ridden swamps, punctuated by the dizzy excitement of discovery—and followed by the grim necessity of conserving the creatures and their environment. Beautiful photos of wild orangutans taken by Perry van Duijnhoven complement a fine text that effortlessly manages to combine profound scientific knowledge with popular appeal.
— Adrian Barnett

Science News
The orangutan is a reclusive breed that lives only in parts of Indonesia. Its propensity for roaming high in treetops and for favoring areas inhospitable to people makes the species difficult to study. Van Schaik and his team were fortunate, then, to have stumbled upon Suaq Balimbing--a swamp in the forests of Aceh, Sumatra's northernmost province...He shares his discoveries of the orangutans of Suaq Balimbing and shows how these findings shed light on the origins of human intelligence, technology, and culture.
Frans De Waal
The red ape is here described by one of the world's greatest experts, who writes with one eye on scientific discoveries and another on conservation. In a lively, beautifully illustrated account, Carel van Schaik relates how he found a unique tool-using population of orangutans. But he also explains how this population presently suffers from loggers, farmers, and poachers, like so many other populations across Indonesia. What a loss the disappearance of this precious primate would be!
Marc Hauser
In this clearly written and lusciously illustrated book, Carel van Schaik takes the reader on a trek into the world of the most mysterious of the great apes -- the orangutan. With passion for his science, and compassion for his subjects, he shows how the forces of evolution have crafted a large bodied, big brained, slow moving, fruit chomping, technologically sophisticated, culturally varied, solitary creature. Unfortunately, the orangutan's future is in a perilous stat thanks to one of its closest relatives -- the big brained, technologically sophisticated, culturally variable, omnivorous and highly social human. Hopefully, van Schaik's book won't be the last word for the fascinating red ape.
Richard Leakey
Finally a special and clear voice for the orangutans. Carel van Schaik has written a fascinating account which is supported by magnificent photographs. I thoroughly enjoyed this book which has set a high standard for popular yet scientific narrative on species conservation. The orangutans will gain many new supporters as they continue to struggle for survival.
Craig Stanford
Carel van Schaik has done ground-breaking work on the behavior of wild orangutans. His science has helped pave the way for urgent conservation work in the apes' rainforest homes. Among Orangutans is his van Schaik's story, written with passion and eloquence, and beautifully illustrated with photos of the apes in their forest home.
Dale Peterson
This book offers fascinating insights into ape behavior, including that of the human ape, based on a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime discovery emerging from some murky coastal swamps in Sumatra: an unusually social, surprisingly intelligent, and prolifically tool-using group of orangutans who overturn much of the conventional primatological wisdom about their species. Among Orangutans is essential reading for anyone interested in apes and what it means to be human.
Karen B. Strier
This book is a fascinating journey through the vanishing swamp forests of Indonesia, in pursuit of orangutans and the clues these apes hold about our own cultural origins. In this expertly told tale, exquisite details of orangutan lifestyles sparkle against the stark realities of habitat loss that now threaten the orangutan's survival. While leading this scientific odyssey into the human-nonhuman continuum, van Schaik also makes a compelling case for why we should care about the conservation of orangutans and what we will lose if they are lost to extinction.
Scientific American - Barbara Smuts
In a beautifully written, compelling narrative that reads like a detective story, [van Schaik] weaves together several threads of evidence to argue that orangutan intelligence is intimately related to technological innovations that are passed down through social learning...Through the large number of outstanding color photographs, we meet many of the 100 orangutans his team recognized individually. They are handsome creatures with long red hair, expressive faces and round eyes that gaze out of the photographs with keen awareness.
Nature - Alison Jolly
Required reading for anyone who wants to understand our nearest relatives, the great apes, in a world full of humans, and who believes that our cousins also deserve to live.
New Scientist - Adrian Barnett
Among Orangutans tells the story of van Schaik's discoveries, and their challenge to theories of primatology and the insights they offer into key moments in human evolution. Van Schaik covers the slog of six years' fieldwork in mosquito-ridden swamps, punctuated by the dizzy excitement of discovery--and followed by the grim necessity of conserving the creatures and their environment. Beautiful photos of wild orangutans taken by Perry van Duijnhoven complement a fine text that effortlessly manages to combine profound scientific knowledge with popular appeal.
Scientific American
In a beautifully written, compelling narrative that reads like a detective story, [van Schaik] weaves together several threads of evidence to argue that orangutan intelligence is intimately related to technological innovations that are passed down through social learning...Through the large number of outstanding color photographs, we meet many of the 100 orangutans his team recognized individually. They are handsome creatures with long red hair, expressive faces and round eyes that gaze out of the photographs with keen awareness.
— Barbara Smuts
Nature
Required reading for anyone who wants to understand our nearest relatives, the great apes, in a world full of humans, and who believes that our cousins also deserve to live.
— Alison Jolly
New Scientist
Among Orangutans tells the story of van Schaik's discoveries, and their challenge to theories of primatology and the insights they offer into key moments in human evolution. Van Schaik covers the slog of six years' fieldwork in mosquito-ridden swamps, punctuated by the dizzy excitement of discovery--and followed by the grim necessity of conserving the creatures and their environment. Beautiful photos of wild orangutans taken by Perry van Duijnhoven complement a fine text that effortlessly manages to combine profound scientific knowledge with popular appeal.
— Adrian Barnett
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674015777
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Carel van Schaik is Professor and Director of the Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zürich.

Perry van Duijnhoven is a Dutch artist and photographer.

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Table of Contents

Preface

1. The Great Ape Paradox

2. Planet of the Apes

3. Homo sylvestris

4. Orangutan Heaven

5. Arbo-Reality

6. Party On (and Off)

7. Life in Slow Motion

8. The Dawn of Technology

9. The Culture Club

10. Triangulating Human Nature

Epilogue: Living on Borrowed Time

Notes

References

Index

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