Curiously Cautious

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Scientists have discovered that curious orangutans remain vigilant and cautious when coming across strange objects.

A research team closely observed how the great ape species responded to novelty in the wild, the first such study to do so, the Washington Post reported.

When in captivity, great apes generally display a curious side and spend a long time exploring new objects. But researchers have wondered how this behavior manifests in the wild.

For their experiments, the team observed orangutans in the forest at Suaq Balimbing, a protected biodiversity area on Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

They placed tree trunks filled with local forest honey near the primates and successfully captured the animals’ curiosity in 170 trials.

The team noticed that age determined the levels of creatures’ level of curiosity: Immature and younger primates spent “significantly longer” time looking at the objects and were quicker to approach them, compared with older ones.

However, both groups would not directly touch the object and employed the use of a tool, such as a stick, to do that. They were also less likely to approach the sweet treat in areas where food was abundant.

Social connections also influenced their curiosity, with the researchers noting that an orangutan was more likely to get closer and touch the object when accompanied by another ape.

The authors explained that the findings could shed some light on how human curiosity evolved.

“We often think of learning and innovation as solo acts, but this might not have been the case in our early history,” said first author Caroline Schuppli. “If novelty was the spark, then our social lives might have provided the accelerant.”

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