Maternal behaviors that mediate skill development in Sumatran orangutans
Although orangutans are closely related to humans, very little is known about their ontogenetic development. In particular, there is a lack of systematic research on the maternal behaviors that mediate skill development in early infancy. To address this topic, we conducted a longitudinal study in which a Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) mother-infant dyad was systematically observed across 28 months, starting with the infant’s birth. Our data revealed several classes of maternal behavior that potentially influenced infant skill development. The timing of these behaviors was contingent upon infant competence level, as active interventions were intense during periods of skill acquisition. The same behaviors were flexibly deployed independent of whether the infant was in the process of acquiring foraging, locomotor or social skills. Our findings suggest that the maternal behaviors that mediate infant skill development in Sumatran orangutans have features reminiscent of human scaffolding, and raise questions about intentionality in such behaviors.