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Orangutan

Overview

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.

  • Status
    Endangered
  • Population
    about 41,000 (Bornean), about 7,500 (Sumatran)
  • Scientific Name
    Pongo abelii, Pongo pygmaeus
  • Weight
    up to 200 pounds

The name orangutan means "man of the forest" in the Malay language. In the lowland forests in which they reside, orangutans live solitary existences. 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. Adult male orangutans can weigh up to 200 pounds. Flanged males have prominent cheek pads called flanges and a throat sac used to make loud verbalizations called long calls. An unflanged male looks like an adult female. In a biological phenomenon unique among primates, an unflanged male can change to a flanged male for reasons that are not yet fully understood.


The two species of orangutan, Bornean and Sumatran, 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 sharp population declines. A century ago there were probably more than 230,000 orangutans in total, but the Bornean orangutan is now estimated to number about 41,000 (Endangered) and the Sumatran about 7,500 (Critically Endangered). 

 

Where Do Orangutans Live? And Nine Other Orangutan Facts

Orangutans live in the forests of Sumatra and Borneo. Learn a bit more about the species and what WWF is doing to help.

orangutan with baby

Why They Matter

  • Orangutans are "gardeners" of the forest, playing a vital role in seed dispersal in their habitats. They live in tropical forests and prefer forest in river valleys and floodplains of their respective islands. Orangutans' extremely low reproductive rate makes their populations highly vulnerable. Females give birth to one infant at a time about every 3-5 years, so these species can take a long time to recover from population declines. With human pressure only increasing, orangutans face an increasing risk of extinction.

Threats

  • Population about 41,000 (Bornean), about 7,500 (Sumatran)
  • Extinction Risk Endangered
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Orangutan habitat

Deforestation and Habitat Loss

The habitats of Asia's only great apes are fast disappearing under the chainsaw to make way for oil palm plantations and other agricultural plantations. Illegal logging inside protected areas and unsustainable logging in concessions where orangutans live remains a major threat to their survival. Today, more than 50% of orangutans are found outside protected areas in forests under management by timber, palm oil and mining companies.

Orangutans are an easy target for hunters because they're large and slow targets. They are killed for food or in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops. This usually occurs when orangutans can't find the food they need in the forest.

Females are hunted most often. When caught with offspring, the young are often kept as pets. The pet trade is a major problem. It is thought that for each orangutan reaching Taiwan, as many as 3-5 additional animals die in the process. Recent enforcement of the law in Taiwan has reduced the importation of orangutans, but the trade remains a threat in Indonesia where there is still demand for orangutans as pets. There is also trade in orangutan skulls in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).

What WWF Is Doing

WWF has been working on orangutan conservation since the 1970s. Our efforts include conserving orangutan habitat, antipoaching, promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture, and halting the pet trade.

 

Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade

WWF works with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, to help governments enforce restrictions on the trade in live animals and orangutan products. We also help to rescue trafficked orangutans, which recover in refuges and are eventually released back into the wild.

Protecting Orangutans

WWF works in both Borneo and Sumatra to secure well-managed protected areas and wider forest landscapes to connect sub-populations of orangutans. Our work on sustainable production of commodities contributes to the conservation of major orangutan habitats in Borneo and Sumatra. We also monitor orangutan populations, work on ecotourism and provide community based support for orangutan conservation.

Experts

Related Species

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