The relationship between humans and orangutans is one that has never really been thoroughly analyzed, which is part of the problem.
What Was Discovered About Orangutans?
A new study revealed that humans had a large influence on the evolution of orangutans over the course of thousands of years. Orangutans would often adapt their lifestyles and habitats as a result of the actions of humans.
The previous assumption in the scientific community is that the environment was the main driver of change for orangutans, such as the availability of food.
"However, the orangutan that existed before modern humans arrived in Southeast Asia 70,000 years ago may have been quite different," said Stephanie Spehar, an associate professor and lead author of the study.
How Did Scientists Discover Changes Among Orangutans?
Although orangutans are only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra nowadays, they were once widespread across many different parts of Asia. Researchers discovered this as they reexamined the fossil record and other archaeological evidence that linked changes among orangutans and their interactions with humans.
Nearly 20,000 years ago, the orangutan population dwindled when humans entered the picture. Early humans were likely hunting a vast number of the orangutans with projectile weapons.
Since these animals reproduce at a slow rate, the hunting decreased the number of orangutans on the planet. It forced many orangutans to change their way of life.
Future Implications Of This Orangutan Study
Scientists could use this study to learn how to save this animal from extinction. Had this study been released many years ago, then humans would have learned what strategies can be used to save these animals. It is possible that thousands of them might have been saved if humans were making an effort in the past.
"Although much effort has already been made to understand the endangered orangutan, this latest study shows that much work still needs to be done to ensure conservation strategies are as robust and wide-ranging as possible," said Professor Mike Bruford, a co-author on the study. "Only then will we stand a fighting chance of preventing this incredibly important animal from being wiped out."
The conversation strategies to save orangutans could be developed from the study. The goal should be to diminish hunting of the orangutans and to improve their habitats so that their population can grow. It could also shed light on other animals that are endangered due to human actions.
The study was published in the journal Science Advances on June 27.