Known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal, spending most of their time in trees. Long, powerful arms and grasping hands and feet allow them to move through the branches.
These great apes share 96.4% of our genes and are highly intelligent creatures. They are very observant and inquisitive, and there are many stories of orangutans escaping from zoos after having watched their keepers unlock and lock doors. In captivity or the wild these fascinating creatures never cease to amaze us! Are you eager to learn more? Here are 35 interesting facts about orangutans…
In Malay and Indonesian orang means “person” and utan is derived from hutan, which means “forest.” Thus, orangutan literally means “person of the forest.”
In the lowland forests in which they reside, orangutans live solitary existences.
They are the largest tree-dwelling mammal, spending 90% of their time in the forest canopy looking for food, and sleeping.
Their preferred habitat is low-lying tropical peat forest, and due to their food preferences, are rarely found above 500m.
They require vast stretches of forest to find enough food and mates. When travelling through the forest, they can snap and break off branches, creating gaps in the canopy. This allows light to reach the forest floor, encouraging new growth and thereby regenerating the forest naturally.
As they travel, they disperse seeds that get trapped in their fur (and presumably in their feces – orangutans also spit out seeds from certain fruits). This has earned them the nickname ‘the gardeners of the forest’.
They feast on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees.
They make nests in trees of vegetation to sleep at night and rest during the day.
These master engineers design for stability, but also comfort, some even fashion blankets and pillows. Orangutans build new nests every day, so it’s fortunate they can whip one up in just a few minutes.
Adult male orangutans can weigh up to 200 pounds.
There are two different types of adult male orangutan: flanged and unflanged.
Flanged males have prominent cheek pads called flanges and a throat sac used to make loud verbalizations called ‘long calls’. They also have a long coat of dark hair on their back.
The unflanged male looks like an adult female. Both reproduce and an unflanged male can change to a flanged male for reasons that are not yet fully understood.
Orangutans are the only primate in which this biological phenomenon occurs.
Orangutans have an enormous arm span. A male may stretch his arms some 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip. When orangutans stand, their hands nearly touch the ground.
When male orangutans reach maturity, they develop large cheek pads, which female orangutans apparently find attractive.
When males are fighting, they charge at each other and break branches. If that doesn’t scare one of them away, they grapple and bite each other.
Like humans, orangutans have opposable thumbs. Their big toes are also opposable.
Orangutans have tremendous strength, which enables them to swing from branch to branch and hang upside-down from branches for long periods to retrieve fruit and eat young leaves.
They use tools such as sticks to fish termites, ants, and bees out of holes in trees.
They have also been observed making themselves a type of glove from leaves which protects their hands from thorny branches and spiky fruit.
Orangutans even use a rudimentary equivalent of an umbrella, as they hold large leaves over their heads to shelter from the rain!
Mothers and her young share a strong bond. Infants will stay with their mothers for some six or seven years until they develop the skills to survive on their own.
For the first 4-6 years of his/her life, an infant orangutan holds tight to his/her mother’s body as she moves through the forest in search of fruit.
Female orangutans give birth only once every eight years, the longest time period of any animal.
The animals are long-lived and have survived as long as 60 years in captivity.
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans differ a little in appearance and behavior. While both have shaggy reddish fur, Sumatran orangutans have longer facial hair.
Sumatran orangutans are reported to have closer social bonds than their Bornean cousins.
Bornean orangutans are more likely to descend from the trees to move around on the ground. Both species have experienced a sharp population decline.
A century ago there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated at 104,700 based on an updated geographic range (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered).
The Sumatran and Bornean Orangutans’ rainforest habitats are disappearing at an alarming rate due to deforestation and clearing of the land for pulp paper and palm oil plantations, with the remaining forest degraded by drought and forest fires.
A third species of orangutan was announced in November 2017. With no more than 800 individuals in existence, the Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered of all great apes.
Poaching orangutan infants and hunting for meat also threatens the species. Mothers are often killed for their babies, which are then sold on the black market for pets as they are cute.
Over 150 rehabilitated orangutans have been released into the forest area to date via the TOP supported Bukit Tigapuluh Sumatran Orangutan Reintroduction Project, the only reintroduction site for the Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutan.
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about orangutan that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!