Orangutans are great apes, as opposed to monkeys, and are closely related to humans, having 97% of DNA in common.
Orangutans are extremely patient and intelligent mammals. They are very observant and inquisitive, and there are many stories of orangutans escaping from zoos after having watched their keepers unlock and lock doors.
Height: males – about 1.5m; females – about 1.2m
Weight: males – 93 to 130 kg; females – 48 to 55 kg
Life Span: 60 years or more
Gestation: about 8.5 months
Number of Young at Birth: usually 1, very rarely 2
Extinction in the wild is likely in the next 10 years for Sumatran Orangutans and soon after for Bornean Orangutans. The Sumatran species (Pongo abelii) is Critically Endangered and the Bornean species (Pongo pygmaeus) of orangutans is Endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The Sumatran and Bornean Orangutans’ rainforest habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate due to deforestation and clearing of the land for pulp paper and palm oil plantations, with the remaining forest degraded by drought and forest fires.
- Logging is an obvious problem for orangutans who spend their lives in trees.
- Fires endanger the orangutans and the smoke confuses them leaving them vulnerable to death from loss of habitat (food). Fires are commonly started to clear the land and undergrowth for farming and palm oil plantations.
- Palm Oil Plantations are now the leading suppliers for a global market that demands more of the tree’s versatile oil for cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel. But palm oil’s appeal comes with significant costs. Palm oil plantations often replace tropical forests, killing endangered species, uprooting local communities, and contributing to the release of climate-warming gases. The orangutans that are displaced starve to death, are killed by plantation workers as pests, or die in the fires.
- Poaching orangutan infants and hunting for meat also threatens the species. Mothers are often killed for their babies, which are then sold on the black market for pets as they are cute. Babies cling to their mothers and suckle their mother’s milk until the age of 6 years. Rescued infants are then rehabilitated by volunteers at orangutan rescue centres. To support and help with the care of these infants, you can Adopt an Orphan for as little as $65 a year.
Over 150 rehabilitated orangutans have been released into the forest area to date via the TOP supported Bukit Tigapuluh Sumatran orangutan Reintroduction Project – the only reintroduction site for the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan.
In Malay and Indonesian orang means “person” and utan is derived from hutan, which means “forest.” Thus, orangutan literally means “person of the forest.”
Orangutans’ arms stretch out longer than their bodies – over two metres from fingertip to fingertip – and are used to employ a “hookgrip”. When on the ground, they walk on all fours, using their palms or their fists.
When male orangutans reach maturity, they develop large cheek pads, which female orangutans apparently find attractive.
When males are fighting, they charge at each other and break branches. If that doesn’t scare one of them away, they grapple and bite each other.
For the first 4-6 years of his/her life, an infant orangutan holds tight to his/her mother’s body as she moves through the forest in search of fruit.
Like humans, orangutans have opposable thumbs. Their big toes are also opposable.
Orangutans have tremendous strength, which enables them to swing from branch to branch and hang upside-down from branches for long periods of time to retrieve fruit and eat young leaves.