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Environmental Geochemistry and Health

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 51–64 | Cite as

Bornean orangutan geophagy: analysis of ingested and control soils

  • William C. Mahaney
  • Ronald G. V. Hancock
  • Susan Aufreiter
  • Michael W. Milner
  • Joan Voros
Original Paper

Abstract

Geophagy among orangutans is the most poorly documented in contrast to the knowledge of soil-eating practices of other great ape species. Observations of soil consumption by orangutans in the Sungai Wain Forest Preserve (Wanariset) of Borneo are presented, along with physico-mineral–chemical analyses of the ingested soil in an effort to understand what might stimulate the activity. The consumed soils are: light colored, not excessively weathered by normal standards, higher in the clay size fraction relative to controls, and are comprised of a mix of clay minerals without any specificity of 1:1, 2:1 and/or 2:1:1 (Si:Al) species. The geophagic soils contain chlorides below detection limits, effectively eliminating salt as a stimulus. Soil chemical and geochemical analyses confirm that orangutans prefer soils with pH levels near or above 4.0, while controls are consistently lower (pH = 3.5–4.0), a considerable difference in acidity for at least four out of six soils consumed. Geochemical analysis shows Al, Fe and K are high in the consumed vs control samples; higher Al follows from higher clay percentages in the consumed earth. Iron and K may play physiological roles, but Fe is mostly in the ferrous form (Fe+2) and may not be readily taken up by the animals. The preferential choice of consumed samples, with pH above 4.0 and higher clay contents, may promote a more beneficial intestinal environment.

Keywords

Orangutan geophagy Great ape nutrition Diet and pharmacology Mineral and chemical composition of geophagic soils 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was carried out with funding from Quaternary Surveys, Toronto and a minor research grant from York University to WCM. We thank Anne Russon (York University) for collecting the samples and making them available to us for analysis.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • William C. Mahaney
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ronald G. V. Hancock
    • 3
  • Susan Aufreiter
    • 4
  • Michael W. Milner
    • 5
  • Joan Voros
    • 2
  1. 1.Quaternary SurveysThornhillCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyYork UniversityNorth YorkCanada
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.The Research InstituteThe Hospital for Sick ChildrenTorontoCanada
  5. 5.MWM ConsultingTorontoCanada

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