- STATUS: Critically Endangered
- POPULATION: About 104,700 (Bornean), 13,846 (Sumatran), 800 (Tapanuli)
- SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pongo abelii, Pongo pygmaeus
- WEIGHT: Up to 200 pounds
Orangutans are the largest arboreal animal, spending the majority of their time in trees and are known for their striking red coats. They can navigate between the branches because to their long, strong arms and grabbing hands and feet. These big apes are extraordinarily intellectual creatures who share 96.4 percent of human genes.
In the Malay language, orangutan means “man of the forest.” Orangutans spend solitary lives in the lowland forests where they inhabit. They eat wild fruits such as lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and drink from tree holes. To sleep at night and rest during the day, they build nests in vegetation. Male orangutans can weigh up to 200 pounds as adults.
Flanged males have broad cheek pads known as flanges, as well as a throat sac that allows them to emit loud verbalizations known as long calls. Unflanged males have the appearance of mature females. An unflanged male can convert to a flanged male for unknown reasons, which is a biological phenomena unique among primates.
The appearance and behavior of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans differ slightly. Sumatran orangutans have longer facial hair than Borneo orangutans, despite the fact that they both have shaggy reddish fur. Sumatran orangutans are said to have tighter social ties than their Bornean counterparts. Bornean orangutans are more inclined than other orangutans to come down from the trees and wander around on the ground.
The populations of both species have been rapidly declining. There were possibly more than 230,000 orangutans in total a century ago, but the Bornean orangutan’s population is now projected to be at 104,700 based on updated geographic range (Endangered), and the Sumatran orangutan’s population is believed to be around 7,500. (Critically Endangered).
In November of 2017, a third orangutan species was discovered. The Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered of the great apes, with only 800 individuals left.
Why They Matter
Orangutans are forest “gardeners,” assisting in seed dissemination in their natural environments. They love tropical woods in river valleys and floodplains on their various islands. Orangutan populations are severely endangered due to their exceedingly low reproduction rate. These species can take a long time to recover from population decreases because females only have one child every 3–5 years. Orangutans are on the verge of extinction as human pressure on them grows.
Hunting and Illegal Wildlife Trade
Because orangutans are enormous and slow, they are an easy target for hunters. When they move into agricultural areas and ruin crops, they are killed for food or in retribution. When orangutans can’t get the food they require in the forest, this happens.
Females are the ones who are most frequently hunted. The young are frequently kept as pets when found with progeny. The pet trade is a serious issue. It is estimated that 3–5 more animals perish in the process of bringing an orangutan to Taiwan. The recent implementation of the legislation in Taiwan has reduced orangutan imports, but the trade remains a problem in Indonesia, where demand for orangutans as pets remains high. Orangutan skulls are also traded in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).
Deforestation and Habitat Loss
The last remaining habitats of Asia’s only great apes are being razed to make room for oil palm farms and other agricultural developments. Illegal logging inside protected areas and unsustainable logging in orangutan concessions continue to pose a serious threat to their future. More than half of orangutans are now located in forests managed by forestry, palm oil, and mining industries outside of protected areas.