Orangutan Does Not Take Kindly to Critters and Chucks a Possum Out of a Tower

Written by Rachael Monson
Published: September 13, 2023
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Visitors to Perth Zoo in Australia expressed shock and horror upon seeing some strange orangutan behavior. A video captured the orangutan throw a possum from its tower hideout on September 11, 2023. Videos of the incident show the orangutan throwing the possum far from the tower and then watching it hurtle through the air. Some claim the orangutan ventured out of the tower afterward, appearing to look for where the creature landed. According to one witness, the great ape was poking the possum with a stick before flinging it. Zoo employees originally stated they suspected the possum did not survive the fall, but they later saw the creature, calling it a “very robust species” in a soundbite to the local news. Let’s learn a little more about these great apes and what could make an orangutan throw a possum before watching the video at the end.

Was This Normal Orangutan Behavior?

To answer whether it’s normal for an orangutan to throw a possum, we must dive a little deeper into orangutan behavior itself. Great apes such as these possess incredible intelligence. Much like with gorillas, research conducted proves this truth. The more we study them and learn about their behavior, the more advanced understanding we discover in them. Orangutan growth is slow, but their memory is long. Babies live with their mothers for 5–8 years! They do not reach sexual maturity until about 12 years old. Orangutans live up to 45 years in the wild and sometimes more than 60 years in captivity. The oldest living individual is Bella, a Sumatran orangutan who celebrated her 62nd birthday in April 2023. She currently resides at Oregon Zoo.

Orangutan in Indonesia with her baby.

Orangutan mothers live with their babies for 5–8 years while they mature.

©Katesalin Pagkaihang/Shutterstock.com

Social Intelligence

Dr. Anne Russon, a Canadian Professor of Psychology, has been researching orangutan behavior and intelligence since 1989. In her interview Quick Guide: Orangutans, published in Current Biology, she discusses the brilliance of these great apes’ social intelligence. Her many years of research and observations give us a keen witness to this.

She says she’s observed orangutans sharing food, sometimes for bartering. The display of the concept “give something to get something” shows an impressive understanding of both their own needs and those of others. Generally, female orangutans form large territorial ranges which overlap with those of other females. Neighboring females come together and visit or feed. They recognize one another, communicate, and even work together to achieve goals. Incredibly, one event observed a wild female orangutan who enlisted the help of a large male to kill another female. No one knows why this happened. Nonetheless, the ability to recruit another for her mission stands out as intelligent.

Dr. Russon also observed orangutans breaking up fights between others and comforting injured friends. Perhaps most unbelievable is her impression that these creatures even show the ability to practice inhibition. That is, they recognize when their actions negatively impact others and refrain from repeating those actions. This observance implies self-awareness and the ability to recognize that actions have consequences.

Furthermore, orangutans employ deceptive techniques to obtain what they want. This is observed in males using leaves to make their call sound deeper to attract females. They do this because a deeper-sounding call usually comes from large males. Large males are dominant and worthy of breeding.

Tool use is one orangutan behavior that shows their mechanical intelligence,

Orangutans are highly intelligent and can use tools.

©Funny Solution Studio/Shutterstock.com

Mechanical Intelligence

Previously, researchers thought these apes were some of the least intelligent. Yet, as more research is conducted, they are discovering this isn’t true.

Dr. Russon also states that orangutan behavior marks them as the most mechanically intelligent apes. She places their ability to use tools and combine behaviors to achieve goals well over that of both chimpanzees and gorillas. In captivity, they solve complex puzzles to obtain food. Research shows they apply learning from previous experience to new problems. This ability to learn and remember is amazing! In the wild, they use sticks to get to food like honey. Some researchers have observed orangutans use fallen branches to bring vines closer to them to climb. They also build nests high in the canopy to keep them safe from predators while they sleep. The orangutan and the infiltrating possum have a lot in common: they both like to be up high in the trees.

So, Was the Orangutan Throwing the Possum a Natural Behavior?

Watching an orangutan throw a possum is unsettling, but it was part of the ape’s normal behavior.

©Ryan E. Poplin / Creative Commons

Yes. Orangutans have been observed threatening leopards and lions. Females defend their young when necessary. Aside from reactions to things that directly threaten them, these creatures are usually very peaceful. The possum’s intrusion into the orangutan’s nest was seen as a threat that required immediate removal. The orangutan threw the possum, acting on natural instinct.

Are orangutans dangerous? If provoked, they can be. Even so, there are very few reported incidents where orangutans ever harmed a human. One such incident recorded a man who decided to jump over a fence and antagonize an orangutan. The great ape grabbed hold of him through the bars of the inner enclosure and refused to let go. Thankfully, both parties escaped the encounter without injury.

The most aggressive behavior seen in orangutans comes between rival dominant males. However, fights between these males occur only when females are ready to breed. Otherwise, they generally keep away from one another.

Slow-growing, slow-moving, and slow to anger – orangutan behavior reflects both their intelligence and their peaceful nature. However, when we witness such sights as this orangutan throwing a possum, we have to remember they act on instinct.

Watch the Viral Video of an Orangutan Throwing a Possum Below!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Svetlana Orusova/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Rachael Monson is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her primary focus is cats, big and small. She also works as senior veterinary assistant and has been in that field since 2012. A resident of Mississippi, she enjoys spending her off time playing video games with her husband and hanging out with her pets (a Bengal cat named Citrine and Basset Hound/Pomeranian mix dog named Pepsi).

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