OrangutansBy Gerry Bishop; photos by Suzi Eszterhas
Look into those bright brown eyes in the photo above left. Do they seem almost human to you? Many people feel that way when they come face to face with an orangutan (oh-RANG-uh-tan). This orang is a female that lives in a tropical rainforest on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia.
Orangutans belong to a group called the great apes. Chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos are great apes, too. But they live in Africa, and orangutans live in Asia. Check out these cool facts about orangs.
1. The word orangutan means “person of the forest.”
It comes from the words orang hutan in the Asian language of Malay. Orangutan seems like a good name for this amazing forest dweller, but there may be an even better name. Read on to see what you think.
2. Orangutans spend more time up in trees than any other large animal on Earth.
These big, orange apes could easily be called “people of the treetops.” They eat, sleep, and even find sources of water high above the ground. Large males climb down more often than others. But they usually do it only to get from one group of trees to another.
3. Their arms are twice as long as their legs.
The outstretched arms of a full-grown male orang can measure seven feet from fingertip to fingertip! (Pretty amazing for an animal that’s only about five feet from head to toe.) Orangs use their long arms to move quickly through the forest, swinging hand over hand along tree limbs.
Orangs can also hold on to branches with their feet. Their big toes are like thumbs, letting the apes use their feet as extra hands that grab.
4. Orangs eat more than 400 different kinds of food.
Orangutans are omnivores (AHM-nuh-vorz). That means they eat plants and animals. Fruit is a big favorite, but they eat lots of other things they find in the treetops—from flowers and tender leaves to insects, honey, and bird eggs.
5. Orangutans are more endangered than any other great ape.
For many years, people have been cutting down the orangutans’ forests and replacing them with buildings and farms—especially palm tree farms planted for harvesting palm oil. With most of the forests now gone, the number of orangs has fallen from about 230,000 to fewer than 50,000. One place where orangs still survive is Borneo’s Tanjung Puting National Park. Park rangers guard and care for them there. To help the orangs find enough to eat, the rangers put out fruit in different parts of the forest.
6. Orangutans build new beds to sleep in every night.
To build a bed, an orang finds a sturdy branch high in a tree. Then it bends or breaks off smaller branches and weaves them together across the big branch. It even shapes some leafy branches into a pillow! After about five minutes of work, the orang has a nice, soft, ape-sized bed to sleep in.
7. Except for moms with babies, orangs spend their lives almost completely alone.
Females sometimes hang out with a few other females. But grown-up males are true loners. The only times they aren’t alone are when it’s time to mate with females or to fight other males to win a mate.
8. Male orangutans can be twice the size of females.
Some males grow up to be close to 200 pounds. These males also grow cheek pads—or “flanges”—that stick out from the sides of their faces and seem to attract females. Hanging beneath their chins are big throat sacs. The males use the sacs to make loud howling and rumbling calls. The calls are a warning to other males to stay away. To females, they’re an invitation to mate.
9. Orangs love to nap.
A baby orangutan loves to take naps while hanging on to Mom. By holding on with hands and feet, the little one goes wherever Mom does.
Actually, orangs of all ages spend a lot of time napping. After a busy morning of munching fruit, an orang may build a quick bed and take a peaceful afternoon snooze.
10. Orangutans are super smart.
Scientists who study orangutans are often amazed by the brainy things they do.
Planning ahead is an everyday thing in people, but it’s rare in animals. That’s why scientists were surprised to learn that male orangs plan where they will be traveling the next day. And then, using their loud calls, they tell nearby orangs where they’re going! This helps keep other males from crossing their paths. And it lets females know where they might find a mate.
Orangs are also smart enough to make simple tools. Some, for example, use sticks to scoop honey from bee hives or to reach hidden insects. Some even make “rain bonnets” out of leaves or fly swatters from leafy branches. They teach other orangs how to make and use tools, too.
11. Mother orangutans have one baby at a time and care for their young longer than any other wild animal parents.
A young orangutan has a lot to learn, including (1) where the best fruit trees are, (2) which kinds of foods are safe and which are poisonous, and (3) where to find water in the treetops (mostly in tree holes). This takes time. And that’s why Mom and her youngster stay together for several years. The young orang in the photo at top right is four years old, and he may stay with Mom for another four years or more! Only human kids stay with their moms longer.
12. Orangutans are daydreamers.
Like you, an orang often hangs out and quietly stares into space. We’ll never really know what an orangutan is daydreaming about. But the one at bottom right might be dreaming of a big, beautiful forest that will always be protected for orangutans!
There is a way that you and your family can help. Some palm oil comes from places where forests aren’t being destroyed. By buying products made from this palm oil, you can join many others in saving orangutan habitat.
To download a Palm Oil Shopping Guide app for your phone, visit rangerrick.org/palmoilshopping.