Experts study parkour orang-utans

No doubt orangutans move around in a very different way to humans, but when it comes to climbing or jumping, people adopt some of the similar methods as their great ape cousins, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Roehampton and the University of Birmingham claim that orangutans are actually the free-runners of the animal kingdom.

They came to the conclusion after analysing the techniques used by humans engaged in the sport of parkour or free-running, in which participants leap and grip to make their way around a city environment.

The researchers found that many of their moves naturally mimic those used by orangutans to travel through the treetops in their tropical forest habitat, using the momentum created by their bodies to help them, a newspaper reported.

In fact, in their study, the researchers asked 20 free-runners to vault, climb and jump over obstacles using as little energy as they could, while having their oxygen consumption measured. Their aim was to estimate how much energy apes use while getting around in the wild.

They found the ways in which the athletes swung across gaps, used walls to gain height and moved over obstacles using all four limbs were all similar to orangutan movements.

"Free-runners try to move as efficiently and as smoothly as possible through their environment. This is exactly what orangutans are trying to do when they are moving around in the forest. "It is a complex environment with gaps in the canopy, branches and some open spaces, so they have to move through this using as little energy as possible to get between food sources.

"When moving along a beam that mimics a branch, the free-runners use all four limbs to support themselves and we see this in orangutans in the wild. The way they climb is also very similar," said Dr Susannah Thorpe, lead researcher, said.

According to the researchers, it is difficult to study how much energy primates use in the wild, so the free-runners can give us a more direct way of assessing this.