The ORANGUTAN (Pongo pygmaeus) is the only species of great apes that live in Asia. They are native to the tropical rainforests and the low-lying swamps in the Southeast area, in Indonesia and Malaysia (on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra). The word orangutan means “man of the forest” in the Malay language.

Known for their intelligence, they use found objects as tools; for example, they use leaves as umbrellas to keep the rain from getting them wet. Orangutans share approx. 97% of the same DNA as human. Chimps and people share  almost 99% Genetic similarity indicates shared evolution. There is greater genetic similarity between apes and people than Apes and Monkeys.

They live in trees and are the largest living arboreal mammal. They move by swinging from one branch to another. Orangutans can also walk using their legs (but rarely do). They do not swim. They are omnivores (they eat both plants and animals) but are mostly herbivorous (plants comprise most of their diet). They eat fruits (their favorite food), leaves, seeds, bark, honey, plant bulbs, tender plant shoots, and flowers. They also eat insects like termites. They don’t even have to leave their tree branches to drink since they drink water that has collected in the holes between tree branches. Each evening, orangutans construct a “nest” in the tree branches for the night in which they will curl up and sleep. These nests are made out of leaves and branches. Nests are shared by a mother and her nursing offspring. Orangutans often nap in the afternoon after a morning spent obtaining food.

Orangutans Height Weight
Female 2.6-3.5 ft (0.8-1.1 m) 75-110 lbs (35-50 kg)
Male 3.2-4.5 ft (1-1.4 m) 155-200 lbs (70-90 kg)

Orangutans have a large, bulky body, a thick neck, very long, strong arms, short, bowed legs, and no tail. They are about 2/3 the size of the gorilla. They are mostly covered with long reddish-brown hair. The orangutan has a large head with a prominent mouth area. Adult males have large cheek pads (which get larger as the ape ages). They have senses very similar to ours, including hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch. Their hands have four long fingers plus an opposable thumb. Their feet have four long toes plus an opposable big toe. Orangutans can grasp things with both their hands and their feet. The largest males have an arm span of about 7.5 feet (2.3 m).

Orangutans are generally passive but the males, which are significantly larger than females can be fiercely territorial. Male orangutans are capable of very long, loud calls (called “long calls”) that carry through forests for up to 0.6 mile (1 km). The “long call” is made up of a series of sounds followed by a bellow. These calls help the male claim his territory, call to females, and keep out intruding male orangutans. Males have a large throat sac that lets them make these loud calls.

Orangutans are shy, solitary animals that are active during the day (they are diurnal). They live alone in large territories with males and females coming together only to mate for only a few days. This is probably due to their eating habits; they need a large area in order to get enough food and too many orangutans in one area might lead to starvation. The only long-lasting orangutan social group is the mother and offspring. Females are pregnant for 8.5 to 9 months and give birth to a single baby, only about every 5 to 6 years. The female will raise its young for 7 to 8 years before independence. Orangutans are mature and capable of reproducing when they are 7 to 10 years old. Their life span in the wild is 30-45 years.

The animal that poses the biggest threat to the orangutan is man. As its habitats are being usurped by man, the orangutan’s population is decreasing and it’s in grave danger of extinction. Orangutans are seriously under threat due to the wide scale deforestation occurring in Borneo. Estimates put the rate of native forest destruction by loggers and palm oil plantations at the equivalent of 300 football fields every hour. In the 2008 Guinness Book of Records, Indonesia was included for being the country with the highest rate of deforestation. Many baby orangutans are orphaned as the forests are destroyed and the ‘lucky’ ones end up in rehabilitation centers. Carers working with these babies stay with them as surrogate mothers 24 hours per day to feed and support them. The babies are all highly traumatized and grieving.