Sumatran orangutans, whose name comes from the Malay language for “person of the jungle,” are critically endangered.
- STATUS: Critically Endangered
- POPULATION: 14,613
- SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pongo abelii
- WEIGHT: 66–198 pounds
- LENGTH: 4 -5 feet
- HABITATS: Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests
The Sumatran orangutan is almost entirely arboreal, living in tropical rainforests amid the trees. Females almost seldom travel on the ground, and mature males do it only on rare occasions. Sumatran orangutans are said to be more socially connected than their Bornean counterparts. This has been attributed to the abundance of fruit on fig trees, which allows groups of Sumatran orangutans to graze together. Adult males are usually alone, whereas females are usually accompanied by their young.
The Sumatran orangutan was once found across the entire island of Sumatra, as well as further south into Java. The species’ distribution has shrunk to the north of the island, with the majority of the population concentrated in the provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh. Only seven of the nine current Sumatran orangutan populations, each with an estimated population of 250 or more individuals, have long-term viability. More than 1,000 orangutans can be found in only three populations. Bukit Tigapuluh National Park is reintroducing orangutans confiscated from the illegal trade or kept as pets. They have a population of roughly 70 and are reproducing.
Why They Matter
Orangutans perform an important role in the spreading of seeds across a large area. Several tree species, particularly those with bigger seeds, would become extinct if orangutans became extinct.
Orangutan habitat in north Sumatra is rapidly disappearing, owing to fires, forest conversion to oil palm plantations, and other agricultural activities. This species is reliant on high-quality forests to survive. Forest fires are becoming a common occurrence, with many of them started on purpose to clear land for plantations. Not only can fires destroy enormous swaths of orangutan habitat, but thousands of these slow-moving primates are believed to have perished in the flames.
A plan to build a major road in northern Sumatra threatens one of the orangutan’s last surviving habitat areas. The road would not only fracture the forest, but it will also allow illegal logging and human settlements to flourish. Despite evidence that preserving the region will aid long-term sustainable development, the project is moving forward.
Despite the fact that orangutans have been legally protected in Indonesia since 1931, they are still abducted in the wild and kept in households as status symbols. Orangutans are hunted for food in some regions. According to TRAFFIC, the worldwide wildlife monitoring network, orangutans are in grave danger due to a lack of law enforcement against illegal trafficking. Females only have one child every eight or nine years, leaving their populations extremely vulnerable to even low levels of hunting. According to experts, even a 1% loss of females per year due to hunting or other unnatural causes might set a population on an irreversible path to extinction.
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