Orang-utan (say oh-RANG-oo-tan)

Orang-utans are big apes.

They live in trees in rainforest.

They have long arms and swing from tree to tree.

They hardly ever come down to the ground.

They eat mostly fruit, leaves and flowers.
photograph © [2007] Jupiterimages Corporation

Click here for a kidcyber flip-book about a trip to Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo by a kidcyber author who spent time with the orangutan species found on Borneo.
Note: The flip book is a large file, so give it time to load.

Some quick orang-utan facts. They are:

• the largest tree-living mammals • the only great apes in Asia • very closely related to humans
• the only apes with red fur • the only apes living almost completely in trees • in great danger of becoming extinct

There are two species, or kinds, of orang-utan, Sumatran and Bornean. Sumatran orang-utans have lighter-coloured fur and a longer beard. Bornean orang-utans have narrower cheek pads.

Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)
Orang-utans live in the oldest rainforests in the world, on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The word 'orang-utan' means 'person of the forest'.

Body and Appearance
Orang-utans are covered with long red hair. They have long, strong arms, ideal for swinging through the branches and tree to tree. Their feet are like hands, to help this movement through the treetops. An adult orang-utan's stretched-out arms measure over 2 metres, fingertip to fingertip!

Adult males weigh about 144 kilograms, and the females weigh about 65 kilograms.

Adult males have large cheek flaps on their faces. They have a sac under their chins which they inflate with air to make a long call which can be heard about a kilometre away.

Mature male orang-utan: photograph © kidcyber.com.au 2014

Male orang-utans spend almost all their time alone. Females are accompanied by their young. When wild fig trees are in fruit, orang-utans do share feeding at the same trees, but at other times they are alone. Males and females only meet in order to mate.

Orang-utans rarely come to the forest floor, spending their time mostly in high treetops of the rainforest. They are rather slow and awkward on the ground.They build a fresh nest each night, high up in a tree. Sometimes they make an umbrella of leaves over the nest if it is raining.

Much of their time is spent eating. They need to eat a lot because their mainly fruit diet doesn't give a lot of energy to such large animals. Wild figs and durians are their preferred food. However, they do also eat roots, nuts and berries, insects such as termites, reptiles, eggs, bark and leaves.

Orang-utans are gentle and highly intelligent animals. They use tools to help them get food, for example, using a stick to reach into a beehive to get honey. They have excellent memories, and remember where to go in the forest at different seasons to find trees bearing fruit.

Life Cycle
In the wild, orang-utans live for about 35 years, longer in captivity.Male orang-utans are about 15-20 before they are large enough to successfully compete for females. Females only breed every 7-8 years because the young depend on their mothers for about 5 years.

Orang-utan baby clinging to its mother - photograph © [2007] Jupiterimages Corporation

Females give birth to one young, rarely twins, about 8-9 months after mating. For its first year, the young orang-utan clings to its mother and suckles milk from her. The young are fully grown at about 10-12 years.

Conservation status and action

Orang-utans are seriously in danger of becoming extinct in the wild in a very few years
Habitat is fast being destroyed. About 80% of the rainforest has gone. Logging for timber is one reason. Rainforest does not regrow quickly: some trees take 60 years to reach maturity and 200 years to reach full height.

Palm plantations are planted where rainforest has been cut down. Palm oil is in great demand by the western world. It is used to make soaps, shampoos and processed foods. When a habitat is destroyed many different animal and plant species are affected because they are all connected. Read about here on kidcyber biodiversity.

Read about the palm oil problem and how many kinds of living things are affected by loss of rainforest habitat, & what you can do: http://www.cmzoo.org/conservation/palmOilCrisis/

In the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species:
Sumatran Orang-utans are classified as Critically Endangered.
Bornean Orang-utans are classified as Endangered.

photograph © [2007] Jupiterimages Corporation

* Baby orang-utans are very cute: their mothers are killed and the young sold as pets. When too big and strong to be a suitable pet, they are dumped. Rescue centres save orang-utans from disease and the damage done to them by poachers and pet owners, and teach them the skills they'll need to be reintroduced to the wild in protected areas. It is a long, slow process, taking up to 10 years.

photograph © [2007] Jupiterimages Corporation

Find out more about orang-utans here:

Go on a journey into the rainforest, the orang-utans' world: http://orangutan.flevoland.to/

See and hear orang-utans as well as read about them: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/orangutan/

Time is running out for the orangutans


Your school can be part of 'Colour it Orange': http://education.orangutan.org.au/
Listen the President of the Australian Orangutan Project (AOP) telling you what they have achieved, and how donated money is used - talk to people at school and start some fundraising!

People should not buy wood products made of rainforest timber. Check before buying!

If you use any part of this in your work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. Orangutan [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2012).

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Back to Animals and Plants of Indonesia Updated March 2014. copyright © kidcyber