Up-close encounters with a fascinating group of people and the orangutans with whom they share their lives.
In 2001, at the age of 50, Thompson (Journalism/Thompson Rivers Univ.; A River Rat’s Guide to the Thousand Islands, 1996, etc.) made his first trip to Borneo where he visited sick and orphaned orangutans. Spending “hours and hours” at the clinic proved to be a life-changing experience, as the author came to realize that “a creature like this can think and feel like you do.” He watched veterinarian Rosa Maria Garriga work tirelessly with the orangutans. He learned the story of the famous Kusasi, who was orphaned and taken captive in the late ’70s, then rescued and taken to a camp. Travelling between the bush and the camp, Kusasi thrived to become the dominating orangutan in the area. One of the disputed issues among primatologists is whether humans should act as surrogate mothers for orphaned orangutans, who normally stay with their mothers until they are seven. Thompson met several primatologists who mothered orphaned apes with mixed success—some of the apes became overattached, jealous and ultimately dangerous or unable to cope in the wild. The author gives due credit to famed primatologists Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, who “perceived different aspects of apes because they saw them as individuals with an emotional life.” Thompson ponders the unique intelligence of orangutans, who appear to have the IQ of a three-and-a-half-year-old, yet don’t have a child’s mind.
Advances the compelling message that we have much to learn from orangutans as their numbers diminish.