According to Darwin’s evolution theory, man descended from different species of apes, so it is only to be expected that we share characteristics with them even today. But, how about an ape species representative showing the same or more empathy than a human being would? Would that surprise you?
This is what happened at the Indianapolis Zoo, featuring a burn survivor and a male orangutang, Rocky.
On May 5th 2015, Darci Miller’s life of Greencastle, Indiana, changed forever. As she was trying to light trash on fire in her backyard, she suffered severe burns in her upper body, arms, and chest, and spent nine days in a coma, undergoing multiple surgeries. Luckily, she survived and recovered well, but, even after returning home, she needed to be supervised 24/7 and also go back to the hospital for numerous surgeries so that motion in her upper body could be restored.
A couple of summers ago, Miller had a few medical appointments to attend, and, since she had some free time in between, she and her fiance, Jason Costello, decided to visit the zoo. Among the many exhibits, was orangutan Rocky, who immediately showed his interest in the woman’s scarred body.
“It was kind of a guessing game. He was just pointing to everything so I was just showing him the bandages on my neck, and my tattoos and the burns on my arms,” said Miller, who was surprised by the mammal’s reaction.
Costello, who was close to them, didn’t miss the chance to capture their interaction on video, commenting that “it’s crazy”. In the short video, we can see the ape pointing at the woman’s bandages that she then peels away showing him the scars, having Rocky staring at them with curiosity.
Miller was so moved by the animal’s reaction to her condition that she wanted to give Rocky a hug. As she told on camera, that encounter made her day and it made her feel good about herself.
“He really made me see that compassion goes further than just human beings,” she explained.
According to scientists orangutans diverged from other apes more than ten million years ago, and they share 28 distinct physical characteristics with humans, while also being 96.4% the same genetically with us. They have also been found to possess a sense of empathy and mimicry, and it is probably that empthy that made Rocky care about the woman’s scars.
Rocky’s behavior is not uncommon among orangutans. In another case, an orangutan kneels to kiss a pregnant woman’s belly, while in a third one, an orangutan rescues a drowning bird. All these instances point to the fact that these mammals have a developed sense of sympathy that isn’t limited to their species but extends to humans too.
After what happened, representatives of the zoo stated that Rocky is special in a way because, unlike most orangutans that eagerly communicate and interact mostly with people they recognize and know well, like their caregivers, he regularly interacts with people he may not know.
If this story is to teach us anything, that is animals can surprise us with their affection and we shouldn’t underestimate their ability to make someone feel special in a positive way.
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