Say Orangutans and everyone knows what it is. Sometimes, it is written as orangutan. Orangutans means “Man of the Forest” derived from the Malay language. These red apes are found only in Indonesia and Malaysia, on the island of Borneo and Sumatra. They belong to the great ape family. Other members of the great apes are gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and humans. In fact, we share about 96% of our genetic build up with these red apes. The most obvious difference between an ape and a monkey is that ape does not have a tail.
There are 2 species of Orangutans, ie. Pongo Pygmaeus the Borneon specie and Pongo abelii Sumatran species. The Borneon species is divided into three subspecies, Pongo Pygmaeus Pygmaeus, pongo pygmaeus morio and pongo pygmaeus wurmb ii. The Sumatran ones are critically endangered while the Borneon ones are classified as endangered. Physically, the Borneon Orangutan is much stouter, with a darker red fur. has a large pendulous throat sac and rounder face with flags. The Sumatran Orangutans has a lighter brown fur, flat cheek flanges and covered with more fur.
Their habitat, the tropical rainforest, is being encroached for agriculture, forest products and other developments. They are being hunted down occasionally by those who considered them as pest. Forest fires too are extremely threatening especially to the ones in Sumatra. They are solitary animals and the largest arboreal (tree living) animals in this planet. With their very strong hands and feet and flexible limbs, it helps them to travel through the forest. These apes are frugivorous. Although 90% of their main diet consists of fruits, they would eat honey, bark, leaves and insects too.
The Borneon Orangutans is endemic to Borneo. Here it can be found in lowland and medium elevation rainforest. Due to deforestation and historical hunting its range is now restricted to areas in eastern and central Sabah, parts of Sarawak and some areas in Indonesian Borneo. The Tropical Rainforest is earth’s most complex biome in terms of both structure and species diversity.The Tropical Rainforest has always been one of the most mysterious and adventurous place to visit.
The Orangutans appeal is instant. Look into an infant Orangutans face and it is like looking in to a child’s eyes. Our facial expressions are mirror images and the depth of emotion and thought in their eyes is breath taking. We share over 96% of our DNA with Orangutans, so they may not be our closest relative but they are close enough.
The Orangutans is primarily tree dwelling (it is the world’s largest tree dwelling animal). It’s forearms are 30% longer than its legs and both hands and feet are equally adept at gripping. They can travel large areas in one day foraging for food – on average around 1,000 m a day.
In the wild, they may live up to 45 years or more. In the zoo, their lifespan may be longer. A male can weigh about 120 kg and can reach a height 1.5 meters while a female is about 1 meter tall and 45 kg in weight. A mature male may develop cheek pads and throat pouch. They will inflate their throat pouch to make loud long call to alert their own kind or to attract their females.
Female Orangutans will have their first baby between the ages of 14 to 15. The pregnancy last for 8.5 months. The young stays with the mother until the age of 7 or 8. Usually, a female will have babies every 8 years. In their lifetime, they are expected to have 3 or 4 young. Other interesting behaviors includes making new nest every night, sheltering themselves from rain by covering their heads with large leaves and when they are annoyed, they make kiss squeak sound. The wild ones have been observed using tools, such as breaking off tree branch and used it as twigs to dig out termites for food.
Female Orangutans breed for the first time between 12 – 15 years. Males become sexually mature at a similar age but will not be dominant enough to be chosen for mating at this age. A female Orangutans is highly selective when choosing a partner to mate with. She is more likely to accept dominant males with fully developed cheek flanges and a throat pouch.
Females give birth to a single offspring every 7 – 8 years. Their offspring do not become fully independent from their mother until they are at least seven years of age, sometimes as late as ten years. Whilst a female Orangutans may live up to 40 years she will only produce maximum 4 surviving offspring in her lifetime. This is the slowest breeding rate of any primate – and why the Orangutans population only recovers slowly.
When travelling in the tropical rainforest, it’s adventurous and mysterious; we definitely want to think about our own safety. Amazon and Africa Tropical rainforest system are similar to the one in Malaysia and Indonesia, but for safety reasons, we always encourage visitors or tourists to visit the 3rd largest island in the world – Borneo.
Within Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), Camp Leakey is conducting study and rehabilitation of Orangutans and other primates. In Malaysian Borneo, the Sepilok Orangutans Rehabilitation Center in Sabah and Semengoh Wildlife Center in Sarawak are also doing the same for rescued Orangutans from encroached forest. Both centers allow visitors to view them during their feeding time and to learn about the initiatives to protect these species. There are also a few dedicated non-governmental organizations working on Orangutans conservation in the island of Borneo.
They are solitary creatures and will travel alone, except when with offspring. They sleep high in the canopy in nests and a new nest is built daily. A new spot for a nest is selected as evening approaches. The nest they build, by bending over branches, is often up to 1 m wide. They will sleep alone, although mothers sleep with their offspring.