Orangutan

Orangutans are large apes that live in southeast Asia (on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra). These apes mostly live in trees and swing from branch to branch using their arms.

The word orangutan means "man of the forest" in the Malay language. As its habitats are being usurped by man, the orangutan's population is decreasing and it is in grave danger of extinction.

Orangutans have a large, bulky body, a thick neck, very long, strong arms, short, bowed legs, and no tail. Orangutans are about 2/3 the size of the gorilla. They are mostly covered with long reddish-brown hair. The orangutan has a large head with a prominent mouth area. Adult males have large cheek flaps (which get larger as the ape ages).

Orangutan hands are very much like ours; they have four long fingers plus an opposable thumb. Their feet have four long toes plus an opposable big toe. Orangutans can grasp things with both their hands and their feet. The largest males have an arm span of about 7.5 feet (2.3 m).

Orangutans are mostly herbivorous (plants comprise most of their diet). They eat fruit (their favorite food), leaves, seeds, tree bark, plant bulbs, tender plant shoots, and flowers. They also eat insects and small animals (like birds and small mammals).

Orangutans don’t even have to leave their tree branches to drink, they drink water that has collected in the holes between tree branches.

Orangutans are very intelligent. They have been known to use found objects as tools; for example, they use leaves as umbrellas to keep the rain from getting them wet. They also use leaves as cups to help them drink water.

Orangutans are shy, solitary animals that are active during the day (they are diurnal). They live alone in large territories. This is probably due to their eating habits; they need a large area in order to get enough food and too many orangutans in one area might lead to starvation.

The only long-lasting orangutan social group is the mother and offspring, who live together for about 7 years. When mating, the male and female orangutan stay together for only a few days.

Each evening, orangutans construct a “nest” in the tree branches for the night in which they will curl up and sleep. These nests are made out of leaves and branches. Nests are shared by a mother and her nursing offspring. Sometimes, the orangutan will use a leaf as a “roof” to protect itself from the rain. Orangutans often nap in the afternoon after a morning spent obtaining food.

Male orangutans are capable of very long, loud calls (called “long calls") that carry through forests for up to 0.6 mile (1 km). The “long call” is made up of a series of sounds followed by a bellow. These calls help the male claim his territory, call to females, and keep out intruding male orangutans. Males have a large throat sac that lets them make these loud calls.

Orangutans live about 50 years in captivity; their life span in the wild is only 30-45 years (like most animals, they live longer in captivity).

Orangutans are mature and capable of reproducing beginning when they are 7 to 10 years old. Females are pregnant for 8.5 to 9 months and give birth to a single baby. Young orangutans are weaned from their mothers at about 6-7 years of age.

Orangutans are an endangered species. They are decreasing in numbers quickly as they lose habitat to people. Further aggravating the problem, baby orangutans are caught and sold around the world as pets.