The orangutan is one of the most fascinating animals on this planet. There are numerous things you may not know about this fascinating orange-reddish beast:
There are actually two species of orangutans
Up to 1996, orangutans were considered one single species in the genus Pongo. However, they have now been divided into the Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan after it was determined that the two species actually split some 400,000 years ago. Even then, the Bornean orangutan is divided into three subspecies and the orangutan in general is the only surviving species of the subfamily Ponginae. The difference is that Bornean apes have darker hair, shorter beards and wider cheekpads than the Sumatran species.
Orangutans are great with tools
They’ll poke anthills with sticks to bring out the ants. They’ll hold leafy branches over their heads to ward off sun or rain. They’ll build a roof out of leaves for their tree-top nest. They use sticks to test the depth of water before going in. They even use branches as flyswatters to battle mosquitoes.
Orangutans are the subjects of numerous legends and folk tales
In central Borneo, there are native tribes that believe looking directly into an orangutan’s face will mean bad fortune for you and your family. Other folktales making the rounds tell of hunters being seduced by female orangutans, and humans even being kidnapped by the ape for reasons of copulation. It’s also been said that male orangutans will be sexually attracted to human women, and may even force themselves on them. It’s also been believed that they can actually speak, but don’t because they think they’ll be forced to work if they’re caught talking. In fact, indigenous people believed orangutans were actually people hiding in the trees trying to avoid having to work or becoming a slave. Which brings us to:
Orangutans are more like humans than you think
Male orangutans live alone while females live alone or with their babies. Baby orangutans cry when they’re hungry, whimper when they’re hurt and they even smile at their mothers. They have 32 permanent teeth, the same as humans. They have opposable thumbs. They are awake during the daytime. They can verbally communicate using some 13-15 different sounds. In fact, it’s believed that we share a common ancestor dating back to about 12-15 million years ago and share 96.4% of the same DNA. Their name comes from a Malay word meaning “person of the forest” (orang = people, hutan = forest).
Orangutans are endangered
Orangutans are amongst the most endangered primates on the planet, with human activity in the Sumatran and Bornean regions contributing to severe declines in orangutan population and habitat. Poaching, habitat destruction and an illegal pet trade have contributed to the great ape’s decline, while several conservation and rehabilitation groups are dedicated to this ape’s survival in the wild. While their life expectancy usually ranges from 35 to 50 years of age, they often don’t make it that far due to their endangered lives. Currently, it’s been estimated that only 40,000 orangutans are left in the wild, down from 60,000 only a decade ago.
Learn more about the orangutan and even see one for yourself on one of Nezasa’s Malaysian Borneo itineraries.