Two of a kind: Rare sighting of a wild orangutan and gibbon playing together


You may have seen the article about this very rare encounter in the Sunday Express (UK newspaper), now here is the full story from Tom Lloyd (a Masters student from Oxford Brookes University, UK), who managed to capture this special footage.

During May, I was following a group of gibbons with Unyil (OuTrop Field Assistant). It was Group C who hold a territory close to camp. They are a family of three, Captain the father, Chocolate the mother and Chilli the daughter, who you might consider a teenager in human terms. We had already been following the group for several hours when we spotted the unmistakable flash of ginger fur through the tree tops.

Fio and Chilli enthusiastically tickling, wrestling and chasing each other. Photo by Tom Lloyd/OuTrop.

The Sabangau Forest is one of the last strongholds of the Bornean orangutan and we are privileged to have the world’s largest population right here on our doorstep. For that reason it was no great surprise to see the pair, mother Feb and baby Fio, on our follow. What was a surprise was when Unyil began laughing at my side, pointed to the canopy and said “Chilli’s playing with Fio”.

And so they were. Fio was hanging by one arm from a branch while Chilli dive-bombed him from the branch above. For a few seconds all you could see was a ball of orange and brown fur while slender limbs reached out as they wrestled, tickled and kicked. Then the pair would break apart and Chilli would go swinging back to her vantage point above.

Video by Tom Lloyd/OuTrop

It was clear that there was no intention to cause harm between the two youngsters, and both seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly. Despite being smaller and more delicate than Fio, Chilli’s agility made her orangutan cousin look a little clumsy and she was able to easily wriggle out of Fio’s grip, swing away and return to the fight by jumping onto his back.

Bar a few half-hearted attempts to break up the play-fight Fio’s mum Feb seemed to be tolerant of the pair’s antics. For the most part she perched a few feet below her son, looking sullen and a little put upon. Chilli’s own parents were swinging off in the distance, seemingly oblivious to the unfolding events.

Taking a time out: Feb sits close by as Fio and Chilli enjoy playtime! Photo by Tom Lloyd/OuTrop

We stayed and watched for as long as we could and I managed to capture a few minutes of footage. It was a strange and fanciful sight, and it had us both giggling like children. It was only when I got back to camp that I learned what a rare and unusual event we had witnessed and how lucky we were to have seen it. This sort of interspecies play is rarely recorded and it was an absolute joy to watch. It was hard for us to tear ourselves away, but as Captain and Chocolate got further into the distance we had to leave the youngsters behind to catch up with them.