Ridgway, Colorado
May 15
A sometimes artist and photographer, sometimes I write too.  


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 1, 2008 11:33AM

I am the Alpha Male

Rate: 36 Flag


I'm the alpha male...




And the Master of my Domain. All I survey is in My Hand and under My Control. There is nothing unto which My Authority does not extend. 




Except for my son—who pees on me.




I pee on you


Pongo pygmaeus


A larger view of the big boy at the top can be found here


A larger view of the disrespectful son can be found here. 


This red-headed tribe of forest men and their concubines reside at the Fort Worth Zoo. It's a bit distressing to see their confinement, but it is in fact difficult to get into their heads to discover if they know of their limitations. I've talked before in a beta post about my discomfort of zoos, but I do see the benefits and efficacy of education and preservation.


There is a bit more funky freedom for the Orangutan denizens at our National Zoo in Washington DC. The Pandas there are the stars, and collect hordes of visitors from around the world and are a favorite of locals and American tourists, but are a mecca for Asian travelers.


The Orangutans at the National though have a unique enclosure. Or rather, more than one enclosure. They reside and play in two distantly separated habitats. But they travel between them in their own version of the Trans-Island Skyway. Two stout ropes are strung between towers and the skyway traverses above the regular, unenclosed human visitor habitat. The towers have resting/support platforms, with some electrical barriers just beneath. Many of the tribe enjoy the journeys to and fro. (If they find themselves needing relief while making the transit, I've observed that they politely deposit their business into some inaccessible landscaped areas below, making the viewing more enjoyable for their human cousins.) The ones shown below are Kiko and Bonnie—the male is the one with the Rastafarian locks.


Trans-Island Skyway 1 of 6


Trans-Island Skyway 2 of 6


Trans-Island Skyway 3 of 6


Trans-Island Skyway 4 of 6


Trans-Island Skyway 5 of 6


Trans-Island Skyway 6 of 6


all photos © 2007 barry b. doyle all rights reserved 

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
That is awesome! I've always loved Orangutans (and of course your photography is the best, that goes without saying - but I said it anyway). At the San Diego Zoo, they have a lot of freedom in their enclosure, so much so that one ornery fellow escapes periodically and, when last I checked, they were still trying to figure out a way to keep him at home.

One day I went to the glass portion and the alpha male, his female, and a new babe were all there. I just sat down and talked to them for a while through the glass and I felt a true connection. The male came closer, put one hand on the glass in front of me, as I mirrored his actions. It was very special (until the zoo employee made me stop).

We can learn so much from these beautiful creatures, thank you for a spectacular post.
These are really great. I like the Master of His Domain.
King of his castle!
Awesome photos Barry. It's nice to see thay have something fun to play on.
I think my husband, and others, can relate to the baby son pee fountain.
I always thought, with that pensive look, they resembled rather hairy Buddhists. Maybe that's not far off. :-D

Excellent photos as always, brother, and thanks for sharing their (and your) story.

Okay, this is a bit long, but it's my favorite description of orangutans that I've come across (my professional research touches to a small extent on animal cognition.) This is from Benjamin Beck, 1980, in Animal Tool Behavior:

"There is an anecdote that circulates among zoo folk describing the results of placing a screwdriver in the cages of an adult gorilla, chimpanzee, and orangutan. The gorilla would not discover the screwdriver for an hour and then would do so only by stepping on it. Upon discovery, the ape would shrink in fear and only after a considerable interval would it approach the tool. The next contact would be a cautious, tentative touch with the back of the hand. Thus finding it harmless, the gorilla would smell the screwdriver and try to eat it. Upon discovering that the screwdriver was inedible, the gorilla would discard and ignore it indefinitely.

"The chimpanzee would notice the tool at once and seize it immediately. Then the ape would use it as a club, a spear, a lever, a hammer, a probe, a missile, a toothpick, and practically every other possible implement except as a screwdriver. The tool would be guarded jealously, manipulated incessantly, and discarded from boredom only after several days.

"The orangutan would notice the tool at once but ignore it lest a keeper discover the oversight. If a keeper did notice, the ape would rush to the tool and surrender it only in trade for a quantity of preferred food. If a keeper did not notice, the ape would wait until night and then proceed to use the screwdriver to pick the locks or dismantle the cage and escape."

This is a marvelous book for anyone interested in animal intelligence; unfortunately it's out of print and the only used copy currently available for sale online is going for $350(!)
"The male came closer, put one hand on the glass in front of me, as I mirrored his actions. It was very special (until the zoo employee made me stop)."

I worked at sea world in animal care for two years. We had all sorts of people at our park. And many find a strange and intimate connection with the animals. Its too bad the keeper made you stop, interactions like that are actually really healthy for our cousins.
Its too bad the keeper made you stop, interactions like that are actually really healthy for our cousins.

And for us, too. :-D
Thanks for all the kind comments! It was a fun post to make.

Lauren, I have to agree with AMIP and Bill, it's a shame they made you stop. My daughter had a similar experience, which they encourage in Dallas--seen here. The gorilla really liked her red sunglasses.
Intergenerational dynamics can be complicated regardless of species, it seems ;)
What stunning creatures these are! Great work. Thanks.
I love Orangutans too! How does you son feel about being compared? Actually, he must love it. These guys are great!
Mary, I was speaking in the voice of the orangutan, not my own voice. My son does not pee on me, or at least not since he was in diapers, so I think he's fine with this bit of anthropomorphism.
Very cool, Barry! Thanks for sharing.
That is pretty cool. My boy could use some conditioner, though.
Oh navigating the tightrope. He would be valuable in my administration. So would the pee'er.
Barry, I'm laughing right now. What a ditz I am tonight. Seriously. Of course I didn't intend for you to take me seriously, but honestly, I didn't get the voice of the orangutan thing. Not paying attention. It's a lack of mindfulness thing. Anyway, I love your post even more.
I was such a redhead once.

Nice pics!
This is one of the funniest things I've read recently. Poor papa. :)

@PF, are you talking Ken Allen? He was an amazing guy. Shattered the shatter-proof glass once, didn't he? He died a few years ago. I loved hearing about his exploits. He never escaped when I was there, though, darnit.

@Rob: This is fascinating, the info about the different responses to tools. Thanks for including it.
Oooh, I missed this one -- the big guy looks like my husband!
those rope pics are kind of eerie, like we are looking at some sort of post-apocalypse 'future of man'

great post,I'm putting the National Zoo on my list for January
We go to the Nat'l Zoo quite a bit - the kids love seeing the orangutans on the wire. I have a real problem with the large primate house though, it always feels a little too much like visiting other humans behind glass but for a divergent branch on the old evolutionary tree.
I agree Haggis, it is a dark, dank dismal place that ape house. Luckily, they can roam outside, which is where I choose to see them. I can't even go into that building anymore.
Love the photos, as always. Beautiful animals.
I'm curious, this is your second post on zoos and animals in captivity. As a fellow Dallas resident, I'm curious about your thoughts on the situation with Jenny and the gorillas...and the Dallas Zoo in general...
I love that they can move between two habitats, that is very cool!