This inaugurates OFI’s newest feature, Orangutan of the Month: a photograph and description of one of the many orangutans found in and around Central Kalimantan or under the care of OFI.
Statistics: Female; excaptive; approximately 24-25 years of age. Mother of 3 offspring (2 surviving: Peta and Pan).
Princess is best known for her participation in a sign language study conducted between 1978 and 1980 by Dr. Gary Shapiro. The following is an exerpt taken from Pongo Quest (vol 7/1) about Princess in 1996:
“Seventeen years ago, I first arrived at Camp Leakey at the request of Dr. Biruté Galdikas, to begin what was to become a two year project aimed at teaching sign language to the ex-captive orangutans. One of those orangutans was Princess, an impish little female who, at the time, literally chose me as her adopted Daddy when I was looking for prospective primate students. We were family during those two years sharing our breakfasts and lunches as well as bathtimes and bed. Within these contexts Princess learned to use American Sign Language. She learned over thirty sign signs to an established criteria and used the signs singly and in appropriate combination to request edibles and contact activities such as grooming and tickling. During those years, we would frequently go on walks or go to the river for a swim or to bathe or to wash clothing.
“Princess enjoyed washing clothes the best for it was in this context she could eat soap and play her clothes washing game. Following the washing style of the camp staff, Princess would lay out one of my t-shirts after dunking it into the blackwaters of the Sekonyer River. She would take a bar of soap and rub it into the shirt then with the back of her hand (a natural bristle brush) and work up tremendous amounts of lather which she would consume with relish. She would also slap the shirt on the deck of the floating platform, wring it out and dip it into the river again. This whole process would be repeated until either she or I grew tired of it.”
Readers can learn more about Princess’s early signing abilities in the following reference:
“1982-Shapiro, G., Sign acquisition in a home-reared / free-ranging orangutan: Comparisons with other signing apes. American Journal of Primatology, 3: 121-129.”