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 Endangered Orangutans
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 centers. 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.
Orangutans are primarily frugivorous, meaning their diet is made up mostly of fruit, but they will also supplement their diets with leaves, bark, insects and, occasionally, meat, especially in periods of low fruit availability. In all, over 400 food types have been identified.
By consuming large quantities of ripe fruit, orangutans are one of the most important seed dispersers in the tropical rainforest. Selectively choosing fruit whose seeds are adapted to withstand passage through the gut, the seeds are then excreted at various different positions throughout the forest, and fertilized in the orangutans faeces.
Some Orangutan Facts
1.) In Malay orang means “person” and utan is derived from hutan, which means “forest.” Thus, orangutan literally means “person of the forest.”
2.) Orangutans’ arms stretch out longer than their bodies – up to 8 ft. from fingertip to fingertip in the case of very large males.
3.) When on the ground, orangutans walk on all fours, using their palms or fists. Unlike the African apes, orangutans are not morphologically built to be knuckle-walkers.
4.) From the age of thirteen years (usually in captivity) past the age of thirty, males may develop flanges and large size.
6.) For the first few years of his/her life, a young orangutan holds tight to his/her mother’s body as she moves through the forest canopy.
7.) Like humans, orangutans have opposable thumbs. Their big toes are also opposable. Unlike humans, approximately one third of all orangutans do not have nails on their big toes.
8.) Orangutans have tremendous strength, which enables them to brachiate and hang upside-down from branches for long periods of time to retrieve fruit and eat young leaves.
9.) Although in the wild, females usually give birth to their first offspring when they are 15-16 years of age, in captivity females as young as eight years old have given birth. Likewise male orangutans in captivity as young as eight years old have fathered offspring.
10.) Bornean and Sumatran orangutans can breed together in captivity, producing viable offspring. So many Bornean/Sumatran crosses were once present in American zoos (before such breeding was banned) that there were more crosses in captivity than “pure” Bornean orangutans.