A baby dropped his bottle in an orangutan’s zoo exhibit. ‘I didn’t expect what happened next,’ says mom.
When CaShawna Wright took her 1-year-old son Cruse on a play date with another mom friend of hers to the Los Angeles Zoo on Feb. 17, she didn’t expect she — and her son and his bottle — would end the day by helping one very clever orangutan become a viral sensation.
“It was my son’s first time at the zoo,” Wright, 30, tells Yahoo Life. She and her friend, who was also with her young toddler, had been wheeling their kids in strollers all day when they were nearing the end of their visit. “We got lost trying to leave the zoo, but we wanted to find the gorillas before we left.”
They soon found the zoo’s orangutan exhibit, where something immediately grabbed the group’s attention.
“The orangutans were humping each other,” she says with a chuckle. Not an abnormal thing to witness in the animal kingdom, but it was enough of a distraction to pull her focus away from Cruse, who, out of excitement from seeing the apes, threw his bottle on the ground where it “bounced and rolled” into a pool of water just a few feet away from the exhibit’s fence, where an orangutan was waiting on the other side.
Wright’s friend called the zoo's front office to inform them of the mishap, who later sent a zookeeper to the habitat to extract the bottle. Meanwhile, onlookers continued watching as the primate observed the bottle with fascination, and was starting to inspect it from the other side of the fence.
“I didn’t expect what happened next,” says Wright, who began recording the incident on her phone. “I was thinking in my mind, oh my gosh, this is something my dad would love to see,” she adds of her father, who passed away six months ago. “So, I started recording.”
In the video, which she posted to TikTok, the orangutan is seen slapping the pool of water where the bottle had landed on the opposite side, before leaving and returning with a long strip of brown paper that was already in the cage with them, Wright says. From there, the orangutan fashions the paper into a hook.
The improvised tool proved successful. The creature was seen slipping the paper through the gaps of the fence, hooking it around the bottle and pulling it back towards itself. With its long hairy arm, its seen grabbing the bottle and cradling it in its arms as onlookers broke out in applause. To celebrate its victory, the orangutan took a drink from the bottle, which was filled with apple juice.
Wright’s video wound up going viral on TikTok, where it garnered 22.4 million views with over 2 million likes and nearly 25,000 comments. “I woke up the next morning and saw it was almost at 3 million views, and was like, OK, thanks, dad,” she remembers.
Viewers of the video were quick to share their thoughts on the playful primate.
“Animals are so amazing!!” one commenter wrote, with another adding: “That orangutan is officially more resourceful than I am.”
“If you didn’t have video proof this would be hard to believe!” one TikTok user said.
“The intelligence of these extraordinary animals! She actually made a tool to retrieve the bottle!” another added. “These animals are so smart.”
Wright says Cruse couldn’t get enough of the spectacle while it was all happening: “He was really feeding off the energy of the crowd, because people were clapping and he started clapping,” she recalls. “When I looked down at him, he just had a big ol’ smile on his face and was looking around and clapping and smiling at the people.”
Two days later, Wright and her husband called the zoo to check in on the animal. “They had to put the orangutan in observation, and she’s doing amazing,” she confirmed. “She wasn’t sick or anything, but it’s just their protocol, because she got a hold of something foreign that wasn’t part of her diet.”
Representatives at the Los Angeles Zoo chose not to comment on the video for this story, and instead pointed Yahoo Life to a page on its website about the Bornean Orangutan, which they say "emphasizes their keen use of tools and overall intellect."
Orangutans certainly have a well-documented history of tool use. As stated on the L.A. Zoo’s website, “in the wild, branches are used as poles, hammers, and rakes to poke termite holes, test the depth of water, or reach their favorite fruit.” They even use leaves as “umbrellas, sunshades, sponges, and napkins.” They’ve also been known to engage in deceptive behavior to outwit their partners, and are even able to identify “more than 72 symbols” for common objects, numbers and commands demonstrating a strong grasp of vocabulary and long-term memory.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, an organization working to conserve the natural world for the benefit of all species, both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are endangered, having experienced “sharp population declines.” A century ago, there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but now, the organization states the Bornean orangutan is estimated at about 104,700 (classified as endangered) and the Sumatran is about 7,500 (critically endangered).
“I always knew how intelligent great apes are,” Wright says. “To actually see something like that, for them to do that unprovoked in the sense that they weren't being prodded with treats and there was no training going on, it was just something that was organic, was really amazing to see.”
Still, while “it’s not the most comfortable thing to see an animal that intelligent in a cage and not in their natural environment,” Wright adds, she hopes the video, as cute as it is, can encourage people to learn more about other endangered species and the devastating effects deforestation has on wildlife.
“In an ideal world, they will be living in Indonesia, in the rainforest, but they don't really have that to live in because of deforestation,” Wright explains. “We need to treat the world and our animal friends better. Like, we are the human animal. We’re part of the same genus [species]."
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