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THE BRAINFOREST; EXCLUSIVE: Princess the smart orang-utan wows Sir David.

Byline: NIGEL BLUNDELL

MEET Princess the amazing orang-utan as she does the DIY, prepares food, washes clothes, draws a picture - and even takes the boat for a spin.

The brainy ape wowed Sir David Attenborough when he filmed her for TV's The Life Of Mammals.

Sir David said: "Orangs are our closest cousins. We are both Great Apes. But until I met Princess, I didn't realise how close."

Princess learned her skills by imitating local villagers at work.

Sir David added: "It seems a passion for DIY is not uniquely human. Her new son Pan is watching and learning, too."

These skills are not Princess's only occupations, though.

In between bringing up three generations of children, she has also learned how to draw with a pen.

Sir David, 76, said: "These are not circus tricks - this is evolution.

"The ability to imitate is what gave the first humans an edge. The way Princess uses her hands, tools and her brain shows this process."

The broadcaster met Princess when he visited a village in the jungles of Borneo where orphaned orang-utans are rescued and raised.

Princess, though, is wild. She was found when she was three years old but, independent of spirit, soon returned to the jungle.

Now aged 35, she has spent her years living in the forest, but she often comes out of the jungle of the Tansung National Park to sit and watch Camp Leakey's villagers.

And over the years she has copied them. First, she watched them bathe and, finding old soap, washed herself.

Then she learned to steal their clothes and wash them, grind up coconut with a pestle and mortar, and even use a hammer and saw.

Her latest game is to take the locals' canoes. At first villagers hid the paddles - she then just used her hands. Then they tied the boats up, but she learned to loosen the knots.

Now they sink their canoes with rocks until they need them - but, in the last few weeks, Princess has been trying to steal their speed boat.

Sir David said: "It's striking how similar orang-utans are to us. It is amazing how human her hand is, the skill with which she picks things up."

Princess's story is the last in the pounds 8million, 10-part series.

Producer Vanessa Berlowitz, 32, says: "We got our footage on the last morning - when other orangs were around, she'd hide."

The Life Of Mammals is on BBC1 on Wednesdays at 9pm.

CAPTION(S):

GREAT JAPE: Princess the orang-utan pinches a villager's canoe. The highly intelligent ape is seen on Sir David Attenborough's show The Life Of Mammals; IN THE SWING: Using a hammer is no problem for her, either; MONKEY SEE: Sir David watches Princess saw up some wood; MAM-MAL: Princess and son Pan sit and watch the world go by
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2002
Words:471
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