A female angry at another female about a male gets the male to help her overpower her rival and murder her in cold blood. Happens every day … unless the killers and the victim are orangutans. Researchers in Borneo report witnessing the first-ever killing of this kind by these great apes and they’re trying to determine the cause.
According to a report in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, the incident occurred in Indonesia’s Mawas Reserve where researchers had been following Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbill) since 2003. During that time, they had seen only six cases of female-female attacks and none had caused injuries – confirming the non-violent and non-killing nature of female orangutans.
In June 2014, Anna Marzec, a PhD Student at the University of Zurich, was watching a young female named Kondor (no names have been changed) who had recently lost a baby. She had a history of harassment with an older female named Sidony – the researchers had once seen them hit and bite in an encounter over Sidony’s daughter.
Marzec watched Kondor spending time with a male named Ekko. When the couple ran into Sidony, Ekko left Kondor (uh-oh) and sexually inspected Sidony. Then he changed his mind (typical male) and went back to Kondor and mated with her. Kondor wanted to teach Sidony a lesson so she made her watch them having sex. When Sidony tried to run, Kondor chased her down.
That’s when this orangutan love triangle turned deadly. Ekko joined in with Kondor and each blocked Sidony’s escape paths while the other bit and attacked her, causing serious injuries. After 33 minutes, another male named Guapo shows up (a knight in red fur), chases Ekko away and mates with the wounded Sidony (what a creep). To his credit, he tried to hold the females apart as they continued to fight but Sidony died two weeks later of her injuries.
While common on soap operas and in major U.S. cities, this type of behavior had never been seen among orangutans, says Marzec.
This is quite unexpected, as in wild orangutans males and females have never been reported to form coalitions before. It is also the first report of males supporting females in their conflicts, with lethal outcome.
Since there’s no orangutan court, Kondor and Ekko got away with murder and remain free in the wild. Had they gone to trial, their lawyer might have tried to place the blame on humans who are destroying the jungle where these great apes live, causing overcrowding which triggers aggressive behavior and worse.
Tune in tomorrow for another episode of “All My Orangutans.”