Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2015

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Dr. Herbert Covert


Endemic to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the orangutan (genus Pongo) is endangered and approaching extinction in the wild. Pongo requires a large amount of calories and travels across extensive tracts of forest in search of food. Predominately arboreal and reluctant to cross breaks in the canopy, forest fragmentation has confined Pongo to smaller patches of forest and forced individuals to interact with conspecifics. This is of particular concern because traditionally Pongo has been understood to live a solitary existence. However, research from the last few decades reveals the orangutan social system to be far more multifaceted than previously assumed; orangutans have established relationships and interact with conspecifics frequently. The socio-ecological model explains that female and male population distribution reflects food availability and distribution. Additional evidence suggests that when provided with food, and thus relieved of the pressure to procure food, orangutans exhibit behavioral flexibility and are able to live in close proximity to conspecifics without increased aggression. I propose Pongo is a behaviorally flexible primate capable, if provisioned, of living in “mono-social” groups as a radical response to extensive habitat and population loss.