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DOES MY FACE LOOK BIG IN THESE....?

Today, orangutans, seem to be every wherw: in terry protchett’s discworld novels in hollywood’s planet of the apes, on products, in zoo and in documentaries. These species have achieved such an assault on the public consciousness that it is easy to think we know everything about them in reality, our scientific understanding of orangutans remains quite basic, largely due to the dificulties of observing them in the wild. We still don’t know how far they range, nor do we fully comprehend their social or sexual behaviour. In particular it is unclear why some male orangutans including kusasi the former dominant male at Camp Leaky in Indonesia’s Tanjung Puting National Park-develop large cheek pads’on their faces.

Typically, only one male orangutan in any given area-the dominant one-has cheek pads. It is commonly assumed that these make him more attrative to females, resulting in greater reproductive success compared with with plain, non cheek padded rival. But males without cheek pads are also know to be capable of fathering offspring-and have done so prolifically in zoos and in the wild. Dominant males have to find and consume more calories, thei movement is restricted as a result of their size and fights with neighbouring dominant is restricted as a result of their size and fights with neighbouring dominat males have been known to result in death. So, why would a male develop cheek pads if he can father offspring without?

In tried to answer this question in 2007, as an undergraduate at the University Of Aberdeen. With the help of Ashley Leiman, director of the Orangutan Foundation, and the Foundation’s staff, I spent many months over the following years at Pondok Ambung, the Foundation’s research atation in Tanjung Puting National Park By Following orangutans from down till dusk and collecting  faecal samples.
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