Orangutans live in Malaysia and Indonesia, on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, in Southeast Asia. In 1900, more than 300,000 of these apes roamed the forests. Now there are only 50,000 to 60,000. The main reason for their demise is the loss of their habitat, caused by humans.
Fewer than 8,000 orangutans now live in Sumatra. These apes are smaller and have lighter and longer hair than Borneo’s orangutans.
Orangutans can live as long as 60 years. Males weigh up to 100 kg (220 pounds) and stand 1.2 to 1.4 metres tall (4-4.7 feet); females weigh as much as 50 kg and grow to 1-1.2 metres in height.
Orangutans stay with their mothers until they are about seven years old. Unlike the ape families depicted in Monkey Magic, real orangutan fathers have little to do with their families.
Orangutans’ arms are twice as long as their legs. They use both arms and legs while foraging for food. Orangutans with the big pads on their faces are male and are called “flanged.”
Orangutans build a new nest to sleep in virtually every night.
Fruit makes up more than half of the orangutan diet. They love figs and durian—a spiky, green fruit whose smell is so pungent it is banned from many buildings in Singapore. They also eat young leaves, shoots, seeds, bark, insects and bird eggs. In desperation, they may even munch on soil or feed on small animals such as birds.
Orangutans, some researchers say, are the most intelligent animal other than humans. Studies have showed they are capable of using leaves to make rain hats and leak-proof roofs over their nests. Adults have been observed teaching youngsters how to make tools and find food.
Orangutans from Borneo are listed as “endangered” by the World Conservation Union. Sumatran orangutans are listed as “critically endangered.”
Very few wild orangutans will be left in two decades unless the destruction of the rainforests, mostly through illegal logging, is halted. The situation may be worse than that, even: many of the last refuges for orangutans, including national parks, might be decimated by 2012, leaving the apes nowhere to go, according to a United Nations report.
The U.N. report found that the rainforests containing orangutans were being cleared so rapidly that almost all will be destroyed by 2022 unless “urgent action” is taken. Satellite photography reveals that loggers are now ripping down rainforests in most of Indonesia’s national parks.
The U.N. report also said orangutans are often killed for meat or to protect newly planted crops.
About 1,000 orangutans are poached from the wild every year, often for sale as pets.
Ah Meng, one of the world’s most famous orangutans, was originally a pet. She spent most of her life in Singapore Zoo and was the only non-human to be awarded Singapore’s “Special Tourism Ambassador” award. She appeared in films promoting Singapore and, like many movie stars, could be temperamental. Once, while filming, she climbed a tree and refused to come down for three days. Following her death at age 48 in 2008, four thousand people showed up to pay their respects. Newspapers around the world carried her obituary.
Ken Allen was a well-known escape artist at the San Diego Zoo. The Bornean orangutan unscrewed bolts and climbed steep walls to get out of his cage, only to be found among zoo visitors and led by the hand to a keeper. His admirers started a Ken Allen fan club and wrote songs about him. He died in 2000.
- WWF News
- Five Years to Save the Orangutan – The Observer
- Orangutans Could Face Extinction – NBC
- Palm Oil Threatens Orangutans, Activists Say – Agence France-Presse
- Activists Expose Malaysia Wood-Smuggling Ring – National Geographic
- Genes Record Orangutans’ Decline – British Broadcasting Corporation
- Orangutans May Die Out by 2025 – BBC
- Logging Threatens Borneo’s Sun Bear – Monga Bay