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April 21, 2018  |  Login

Bornean: Pongo pygmaeus, Sumatran: Pongo abelii

What Are They Like?

Orangutans, among the most endangered of the Great Apes, are the largest primates living in Asia and the largest tree-living mammals in the world. With a name that means “person of the forest” in the Malay language, orangutans have 97 percent of the same DNA as humans. They are covered with reddish-orange fur. Male orangutans stand around 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) tall, and can weigh anywhere between 130-200 pounds (59-90.7 kilograms). Females are smaller and lighter, at about 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall and 90-110 pounds (40.8-50 kilograms). Like people, orangutans have opposable thumbs. They also have opposable toes. Unlike most primates, which walk directly on their knuckles, orangutans walk on fisted hands. They are incredibly strong, able to hang upside down and swing their large bodies easily through the trees. Most males and females reach maturity by 12 years of age. Individual orangutans can live in the wild for more than 50 years.

Where Do They Live?

Forest-dwelling orangutans make their homes in the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests found throughout Indonesia. Even in Indonesia’s national parks, forests are being illegally logged, and illegal strip mines further degrade the threatened rainforest. Intentionally set and naturally occurring fires—including one in 1997 that burned down a rainforest the size of New Jersey—also have destroyed important orangutan habitat.

Did You Know?
When male orangutans are around 15 years old, they develop large cheek pads that apparently make them more attractive to females.

How Are Babies Made?

Orangutans are fairly solitary animals, especially when compared to other Great Apes. Males and females generally come together only to mate. Female orangutans reach reproductive age at about ten years, and can remain fertile for 30 years. Females typically give birth to one baby only once every eight years, the longest reproductive cycle of any animal. Baby orangutans, born after an eight-month pregnancy, weigh about 3.5 pounds (1.5 kilograms)at birth, stay with their mothers for about six or seven years.

What Do They Eat?

Orangutans eat mostly fruit, along with leaves, bark, insects and bird eggs. Scientists have actually documented 400 different foods that orangutans find and eat in the forest. They sometimes find fruit—lychees, mangos, figs and other tropical treats—by following large hornbills and other fruit-eating birds. Some orangutans have been known to eat soil or small rocks to help with digestion.

Did You Know?
From finger to finger, an Orangutan can have a stretched arm span of more than 7 feet (2.1 meters).

What Do They Do?

Orangutans have some of the most advanced communication and motor skills in the primate world. Males travel through the forest giving a long, loud howl that can be heard more than a mile away to warn male competitors to stay away. Agile swingers, orangutans spend nearly all of their time in trees. Every night they create beds for themselves, bending branches and foliage into a tree-house nest. They often shelter from the rain using large leaves as umbrellas, and can fashion sophisticated tools made out of sticks and rocks to efficiently extract insects from trees, and seeds from various fruits. They are remarkably intelligent creatures, capable of learning American Sign Language. Beginning in the 1970s, researchers have taught a few orangutans to communicate with humans using more than 30 different signs.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Bornean Orangutan as “endangered,” and the Sumatran Orangutan as “critically endangered.” Both could become extinct without protection of their remaining—and dwindling—habitat.  The orangutan population, which once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, has decreased by 92 percent in the past century. There are currently only about 7,300 orangutans in Sumatra and between 45,000 and 69,000 in Borneo. The striking decline of the orangutan population can be attributed to loss of habitat due to heavy logging and illegal strip mining of rainforest areas in Southeast Asia. Orangutans are also threatened by poachers and illegal trade in exotic pets. Poachers often kill an orangutan mother in order to steal her baby for the illegal pet trade. According to the Orangutan Foundation, six to ten orangutans die for every one that survives.

What's Being Done?

The Sumatran orangutan is strictly protected under Indonesian domestic legislation. The Bornean orangutan is a fully protected species by law in both Malaysia and Indonesia. Both species are listed on Appendix I of CITES. Conservation groups such as the Bornean Orangutan Survival work to save orangutans that are separated from their mothers, no longer have a home or are captured illegally with the goal of re-releasing them back in the wild to re-establish the orangutan population in South East Asia. With over 630 orangutans in their hands, they have been able to successfully release orangutans back into their natural habitats.


Bornean Orangutan builds nest Sabhah, Malaysia

Amazing DIY Orangutans - BBC Earth

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