, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 189-202
Date: 12 Dec 2006

Orangutan leaf-carrying for nest-building: Toward unraveling cultural processes

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We report an empirical study on leaf-carrying, a newly discovered nest-building technique that involves collecting nest materials before reaching the nest site. We assessed whether leaf-carrying by rehabilitant orangutans on Kaja Island, Central Kalimantan, owes to cultural influences. Findings derive from ca 600 h observational data on nesting skills and nesting associations in Kaja’s 42 resident rehabilitants, which yielded 355 nests and 125 leaf-carrying cases by 34 rehabilitants. Regional contrasts with 14 other communities (7 rehabilitant, 7 wild) indicated cultural influences on leaf-carrying on Kaja. Association data showed exceptional social learning opportunities for leaf-carrying on Kaja, with residents taking differential advantage of these opportunities as a function of development, experience, and social position. Juvenile males with basic nesting skills were most influenced by social input. Most (27) leaf-carriers had probably learned leaf-carrying when caged and 7 probably learned it on Kaja. Social priming was probably the main impetus to leaf-carrying on Kaja, by simply prompting observers to copy when leaf-carrying associates collected nesting materials, what they collected, and where they used their collected materials. Implications concern acquisition processes and ontogenetic schedules that orchestrate sets of features—needs or interests, cognitive abilities, social preferences—which enable cultural transmission.