Orangutan, which means ‘forest people’ in the Malay, is in danger of becoming extinct soon. The biggest threat to their life today is the accelerated loss of their natural rainforest environment in Borneo and Sumatra. Large areas of virgin rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra have been cut down for its timber, and the land cleared and replanted with palm oil plantations and other cash crops. Plantation owners and their workers often slaughter orangutans when they intrude into human areas searching for food as they are deemed a threat to the precious crop. They have also fallen prey to unlawful hunting, and sadder still, baby orangutans are often hunted down by criminal hunters who consider them a highly prized commodity. They are adorable creatures and bear a lot of similarity to a human baby. These infant orangutans are often taken and sold into the illegal pet trade after their mother is shot.
Orangutan is the most comprehensive tree-dwelling animal globally, with the largest males capable of stretching to a height of more than 5 feet and weighing over 200 pounds. Females usually are much smaller than the males, where the aged females can grow to a height of about 3.5 feet and weigh nearly half of the males.
Most of their time is spent swinging from tree to tree and living on top of tree branches where they get their food and other needs. Although they have great legs, it is not very often use for walking as they rarely come down to the ground to evade being prey to predators such as leopards, tigers and snakes. Since they need to spend most of their time on trees tops, they have developed long and sturdy legs and arms to enable them to swing from branches to branches with ease. They also have hook-shaped toes and fingers to hang and swing on the tree branches easily.
Orangutans are omnivores, but their preferred diets are mainly tropical fruits from the rainforest, such as mangoes, jackfruit, durian, and other fruits, which make up over 90% of their diet. Other than fruits, they also eat other food such as tree shoots, bird eggs, leaves, honey, small insects, and small animals such as birds. They are also known to eat tree bark and rock or soil rich in minerals. Orangutans are called loners who like to keep to themselves as much as possible.
Adults of both sexes typically wander and travel alone. They usually are active during the day and spend much of their grown-up life alone and avoiding others of their own species. The exemption to this is during feeding time. They will assemble to share the same fruiting tree during mating and during the weaning period between a mother orangutan and her child, where they will be in close contact with each other for the first seven years of the kid life.
Orangutans have a very similar genetic makeup to humans, with about 96% identical DNA. Recent research has shown that orangutans are more intelligent than chimpanzees, earlier thought to be the most intelligent creatures in the mammal’s world. They are the only creature in the animal kingdom that can make and utilize various simple tools to aid them in their everyday life.
They make their own sleeping nest every night from twigs, tree branches, and foliage. They also make tools for plucking insects from tree holes or cavities and can use seed-removal tools for removing seeds from hard-skin fruit. Adults’ orangutans are also known to teach their young the art of making tools and how to find food.
The future survival of orangutans in the wild will depend on human intervention, as they are likely to become extinct in the wild without our intervention and help. Borneo and Sumatra’s governments have taken the first step to ensure their survival by declaring large areas of the rainforest as a forest reserve where logging and land clearing for plantations is prohibited.
Wildlife protection laws are also in place to keep them safe from extinction. Many sanctuary and rehabilitation centers have been opened to treat and care for sick, injured or orphaned orangutans. These rehabilitated apes will then be released back into the tropical rainforest to re-populate back the forests.