Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I Love Lucy

I’ve recently ascertained that the orangutan who has been my best subject for portraits (see One Good Shot and Strange Encounter,) is the oldest of the zoo orangutans, a 37-year-old Bornean-Sumatran hybrid orang named Lucy. She’s also the orangutan who I think has the most ironic, and yet also most forgiving, attitude towards the zoo’s visitors—at least, that’s the impression I get from her expressions as she gazes out at us. Maybe it’s because she’s the oldest that she has the most sophisticated attitude—or maybe it’s just that, since she’s been highly socialized with humans, her expressions are the easiest for a human like me to interpret (or imagine I’m interpreting).




Not that the other orangutans don’t give me, and the rest of their audience, looks that—how shall I put it?—resonate. Bonnie (only a few years younger than Lucy, if that matters), also has a pretty powerful gaze:


But overall I’d say it’s Lucy who seems most aware of her human audience and most willing to, if not play to them—since there’s no sense of performing to entertain in her behavior—then interact with them, even if only by observing us back.


It does make me wonder what she sees of us, and in us—and if she’s aware at all, for example, of the conversation of a group of high-school kids on a class assignment, trying to answer questions about the apes and guessing that she is one of the large males named “Tang” (just a note: there’s only one large male, named Kiko, and the only orangutan with a name like that is a juvenile female, Batang). Although there was a young woman right next to the high-schoolers who was observing and recording the orangs’ behavior, they, unlike me, saw no need to refer to an authority before making their identifications.


I believe that during this time Lucy was engaged in, first, picking some edible vines growing in the trench within her enclosure, which she wore briefly before eating, and, second, sharing food and quiet contemplation with Batang, but I do wonder what she might have made of the students’ conversation. I suspect that her look, as always, would be eloquent.



{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}

3 comments:

Anca said...

Laura Mulvey's got nothing on these non-human, all-too-human gazes. It does make one wonder, for the millionth time, who should be behind bars.

Adrian said...

Now that you can identify them by name, who was wearing the interesting straw configuration?

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

The straw-wearer was Lucy.

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