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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Ponginae
Genus: Pongo
Lacépède, 1799
Type species
Pongo borneo
Lacépède, 1799 (= Simia pygmaeus Linnaeus, 1760)

Pongo pygmaeus
Pongo abelii

Orangutan distribution

The orangutans are the only exclusively Asian living genus of great ape. They are the largest living arboreal animals. They have longer arms than other great apes, and their hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of other great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, they are currently found only in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, though fossils have been found in Java, the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Vietnam and China. There are only two surviving species, both of which are endangered: the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii). The subfamily Ponginae also includes the extinct genera Gigantopithecus and Sivapithecus. The word "orangutan" comes from the Malay words "orang" (man) and "(h)utan" (forest); hence, "man of the forest".


Ecology and appearance

Male, child, and female Sumatran orangutans
Size relative to a 6 foot (1.8 m) man

An orangutan's standing height averages from 4 to 5 ft (1.2 to 1.5 m) and weighs between 73 to 180 pounds (33 to 82 kg).[2] Males can weigh up to 250 lb (110 kg) or more.[3] Orangutan hands are similar to humans hands; they have four long fingers and an opposable thumb. Their feet have four long toes and an opposable big toe. Orangutans can grasp things with both their hands and their feet. The largest males have an arm span of about 7.5 ft (2 m).

Orangutans have a large, bulky body, a thick neck, very long, strong arms, short, bowed legs, and no tail. They are mostly covered with long reddish-brown hair, although this differs between the species: Sumatran Orangutans have a more sparse and lighter coloured coat.[4]

The orangutan has a large head with a prominent mouth area. Adult males have large cheek flaps (which get larger as the ape ages) that show their dominance to other males and their readiness to mate. The age of maturity for females is approximately 12 years. Orangutans may live for up to 50 years in the wild.

Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes, spending nearly all of their time in the trees. Every night they fashion sleeping nests from branches and foliage. They are more solitary than other apes; males and females generally come together only to mate. Mothers stay with their babies for six or seven years. There is significant sexual dimorphism: females can grow to around 4 ft 2 in or 127 cm and weigh around 100 lb (45 kg) while flanged adult males can reach 5 ft 9 in or 175 cm in height and weigh over 260 lb (118 kg).[5]

The arms of orangutans are twice as long as their legs. Much of the arm's length has to do with the length of the radius and the ulna rather than the humerus. Their fingers and toes are curved, allowing them to better grip onto branches. Orangutans have less restriction in the movements of their legs than humans and other primates, due to the lack of a hip joint ligament which keeps the femur held into the pelvis. Unlike gorillas and chimpanzees, orangutans are not true knuckle-walkers, and are instead fist-walkers.[6]


Flanged adult male

Fruit makes up 65–90 percent of the orangutan diet. Fruits with sugary or fatty pulp are favored. Ficus fruits are commonly eaten, because they are easy to harvest and digest. Lowland Dipterocarp forests are preferred by orangutans because of their plentiful fruit. Bornean orangutans consume at least 317 different food items that include young leaves, shoots, bark, insects, honey, and bird eggs.[7][8]

Orangutans are opportunistic foragers, and their diets vary markedly from month to month.[8] Bark is eaten as a last resort in times of food scarcity; fruits are always more popular

Orangutans are thought to be the sole fruit disperser for some plant species including the climber species Strychnos ignatii which contains the toxic alkaloid strychnine.[9] It does not appear to have any effect on orangutans except for excessive saliva production.

Geophagy, the practice of eating soil or rock, has been observed in orangutans. There are three main reasons for this dietary behavior; for the addition of minerals nutrients to their diet; for the ingestion of clay minerals that can absorb toxic substances; or to treat a disorder such as diarrhea.[10]

Orangutans use plants of the genus Commelina as an anti-inflammatory balm.[11]

Behavior and communication

Orangutans at Singapore Zoo

Tool use and culture

Like the other great apes, orangutans are among the most intelligent primates.[12] Wild chimpanzees have been known to use tools since the 1960s.[13] Tool use in orangutans has been observed in ex-captive populations.[14]

Evidence of sophisticated tool manufacture and use in the wild was reported from a population of orangutans in Suaq Balimbing (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) in 1996.[15] These orangutans developed a tool kit for use in foraging that consisted of insect-extraction tools for use in the hollows of trees, and seed-extraction tools which were used in harvesting seeds from hard-husked fruit. The orangutans adjusted their tools according to the nature of the task at hand and preference was given to oral tool use.[16] This preference was also found in an experimental study of captive orangutans (P. pygmaeus).[17]

Carel P. van Schaik from the University of Zurich and Cheryl D. Knott from Harvard University further investigated tool use in different wild orangutan populations. They compared geographic variations in tool use related to the processing of Neesia fruit. The orangutans of Suaq Balimbing (P. abelii) were found to be avid users of insect and seed-extraction tools when compared to other wild orangutans.[18][19] The scientists suggested that these differences are cultural. The orangutans at Suaq Balimbing live in dense groups and are socially tolerant; this creates good conditions for social transmission.[18] Further evidence that highly social orangutans are more likely to exhibit cultural behaviors came from a study of leaf-carrying behaviors of ex-captive orangutans that were being rehabilitated on the island of Kaja in Borneo.[20] The above evidence is consistent with the existence of orangutan culture as geographically distinct behavioral variants which are maintained and transmitted in a population through social learning.[21]

In 2003, researchers from six different orangutan field sites who used the same behavioral coding scheme compared the behaviors of the animals from the different sites.[22] They found that the different orangutan populations behaved differently. The evidence suggested that the differences in behavior were cultural: first, because the extent of the differences increased with distance, suggesting that cultural diffusion was occurring, and second, because the size of the orangutans’ cultural repertoire increased according the amount of social contact present within the group. Social contact facilitates cultural transmission.[22] Carel P. van Schaik suggests that young orangutans (P. abelii) acquire tool use skills and cultural behaviors by observing and copying older orangutans.[21]

Orangutans do not limit their tool use to foraging, displaying or nest-building activities. Wild orangutans (P. pygmaeus wurmbii) in Tuanan, Borneo, were reported to use tools in acoustic communication.[23] They use leaves to amplify the kiss squeak sounds that they produce. Some have suggested that the apes employ this method of amplification in order to deceive the listener into believing that they are larger animals.[23]


A two-week old orangutan

A two year study of orangutan symbolic capability was conducted from 1973-1975 by Gary L. Shapiro with Aazk, a juvenile female orangutan at the Fresno City Zoo (now Chaffee Zoo) in Fresno, California. The study employed the techniques of David Premack who used plastic tokens to teach the chimpanzee, Sarah, linguistic skills. Shapiro continued to examine the linguistic and learning abilities of ex-captive orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park, in Indonesian Borneo, between 1978 and 1980. During that time, Shapiro instructed ex-captive orangutans in the acquisition and use of signs following the techniques of R. Allen and Beatrix Gardner who taught the chimpanzee, Washoe, in the late-1960s. In the only signing study ever conducted in a great ape's natural environment, Shapiro home-reared Princess, a juvenile female who learned nearly 40 signs (according to the criteria of sign acquisition used by Francine Patterson with Koko, the gorilla) and trained Rinnie, a free-ranging adult female orangutan who learned nearly 30 signs over a two year period. For his dissertation study, Shapiro examined the factors influencing sign learning by four juvenile orangutans over a 15-month period.[24]

The first orangutan language study program, directed by Dr. Francine Neago, was listed by Encyclopædia Britannica in 1988. The Orangutan language project at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., uses a computer system originally developed at UCLA by Neago in conjunction with IBM.[25]

Orangutan "laughing"

Zoo Atlanta has a touch screen computer where their two Sumatran Orangutans play games. Scientists hope that the data they collect from this will help researchers learn about socializing patterns, such as whether they mimic others or learn behavior from trial and error, and hope the data can point to new conservation strategies.[26]

A 2008 study of two orangutans at the Leipzig Zoo showed that orangutans are the first non-human species documented to use 'calculated reciprocity' which involves weighing the costs and benefits of gift exchanges and keeping track of these over time.[27]

Although orangutans are generally passive, aggression toward other orangutans is very common; they are solitary animals and can be fiercely territorial. Immature males will try to mate with any female, and may succeed in forcibly copulating with her if she is also immature and not strong enough to fend him off. Mature females easily fend off their immature suitors, preferring to mate with a mature male.

Orangutans do not swim. At least one population at a conservation refuge on Kaja island in Borneo have been photographed wading in deep water.[28]

Orangutans, along with Chimpanzees, gorillas, and other apes, have even shown laughter-like vocalizations in response to physical contact, such as wrestling, play chasing, or tickling.[29]


  • Genus Pongo [1]
    • Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
      • Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus - northwest populations
      • Pongo pygmaeus morio - east populations
      • Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii - southwest populations
    • Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)
Pongo pygmaeus

The populations on the two islands were classified as subspecies until recently, when they were elevated to full specific level, and the three distinct populations on Borneo were elevated to subspecies. The population currently listed as P. p. wurmbii may be closer to the Sumatran Orangutan than the Bornean Orangutan. If confirmed, abelii would be a subspecies of P. wurmbii (Tiedeman, 1808).[30] Regardless, the type locality of pygmaeus has not been established beyond doubts, and may be from the population currently listed as wurmbii (in which case wurmbii would be a junior synonym of pygmaeus, while one of the names currently considered a junior synonym of pygmaeus would take precedence for the northwest Bornean taxon).[30] To further confuse, the name morio, as well as various junior synonyms that have been suggested,[1] have been considered likely to all be junior synonyms of the population listed as pygmaeus in the above, thus leaving the east Bornean populations unnamed.[30]

In addition, a fossil species, P. hooijeri, is known from Vietnam, and multiple fossil subspecies have been described from several parts of southeastern Asia. It is unclear if these belong to P. pygmaeus or P. abeli or, in fact, represent distinct species.

Conservation status

The Sumatran species is critically endangered[31] and the Bornean species of orangutans is endangered[32] according to the IUCN Red List of mammals, and both are listed on Appendix I of CITES. The total number of Bornean orangutans is estimated to be less than 14 percent of what it was in the recent past (from around 10,000 years ago until the middle of the twentieth century) and this sharp decline has occurred mostly over the past few decades due to human activities and development.[32] Species distribution is now highly patchy throughout Borneo: it is apparently absent or uncommon in the south-east of the island, as well as in the forests between the Rejang River in central Sarawak and the Padas River in western Sabah (including the Sultanate of Brunei).[32] The largest remaining population is found in the forest around the Sabangau River, but this environment is at risk.[33] A similar development have been observed for the Sumatran orangutans.[31]

Sumatran Orangutan at the orangutan rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang

The most recent estimate for the Sumatran Orangutan is around 7,300 individuals in the wild[31] while the Bornean Orangutan population is estimated at between 45,000 and 69,000.[32] These estimates were obtained between 2000 and 2003. However, thousands of orangutans don't reach adulthood due to human disruption. Orangutans are killed for food while others are killed because of disruption in people's property. Mother orangutans are killed so their infants can be sold as pets. Many of the infants die without the help of their mother.[3] Since recent trends are steeply down in most places due to logging and burning, it is forecast that the current numbers are below these figures.[32]

Video of Orangutans at a rehabilitation centre in Borneo

Orangutan habitat destruction due to logging, mining and forest fires, as well as fragmentation by roads, has been increasing rapidly in the last decade.[31][32][34] A major factor in that period of time has been the conversion of vast areas of tropical forest to oil palm plantations in response to international demand (the palm oil is used for cooking, cosmetics, mechanics, and more recently as source of biodiesel).[31][32][35] Some UN scientists believe that these plantations could lead to irreparable damage to orangutan habitat by the year 2012.[36][37] Some of this activity is illegal, occurring in national parks that are officially off limits to loggers, miners and plantation development.[31][32] There is also a major problem with hunting[31][32] and illegal pet trade.[31][32] In early 2004 about 100 individuals of Bornean origin were confiscated in Thailand and 50 of them were returned to Kalimantan in 2006. Several hundred Bornean orangutan orphans who were confiscated by local authorities have been entrusted to different orphanages in both Malaysia and Indonesia. They are in the process of being rehabilitated into the wild.[32]

Major conservation centres in Indonesia include those at Tanjung Puting National Park and Sebangau National Park in Central Kalimantan, Kutai in East Kalimantan, Gunung Palung National Park in West Kalimantan, and Bukit Lawang in the Gunung Leuser National Park on the border of Aceh and North Sumatra. In Malaysia, conservation areas include Semenggoh Wildlife Centre in Sarawak and Matang Wildlife Centre also in Sarawak, and the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary near Sandakan in Sabah.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Groves, C. (2005). Wilson, D. E., & Reeder, D. M. ed. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 183-184. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. 
  2. ^ "National Geographic". National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2009-07-25. 
  3. ^ a b Patricia L. Miller-Schroeder (2004). Orangutans. The Untamed World. p. 64. ISBN 1553880498. Retrieved 2009-07-07. 
  4. ^ "Orangutan Anatomy Page". Retrieved 2009-07-03. 
  5. ^ "Sumatran Orangutan Society". Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  6. ^ Schwartz, Jeffrey (1987). The Red Ape: Orangutans and Human Origins. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press. p. 286. ISBN 0813340640. 
  7. ^ Cawthon Lang KA (2005-06-13). "Primate Factsheets: Orangutan (Pongo) Taxonomy, Morphology, & Ecology". Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  8. ^ a b Galdikas, Birute M.F. (1988). "Orangutan Diet, Range, and Activity at Tanjung Puting, Central Borneo". International Journal of Primatology 9 (1): 1. doi:10.1007/BF02740195. 
  9. ^ Rijksen, H. D. (December 1978). "A Field Study on Sumatran Orang Utans (Pongo pygmaeus abelii, Lesson 1827): Ecology, Behaviour and Conservation". The Quarterly Review of Biology 53 (4): 493. doi:10.1086/410942. 
  10. ^ "Science: Monkeys were the first doctors (". 1 April 2008. 
  11. ^ Matt Walker Wild orangutans treat pain with natural anti-inflammatory New Scientist 28 July 2008.
  12. ^ Deaner RO, van Schaik CP, Johnson V. 2006. Do some taxa have better domain cognition than others? A meta-analysis of nonhuman primate studies. Evol Psych 4: 149-196
  13. ^ Goodall J. 1970. Tool-using in primates and other vertebrates. In: Lehrman DS, Hinde RA, Shaw E, editors. Advances in the study of behavior. New York, Academic Press. Vol. 3: p. 195-249
  14. ^ Galdikas BMF. 1982. Orang-Utan tool use at Tanjung Putting Reserve, Central Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan Tengah). J Hum Evol 10:19-33
  15. ^ van Schaik CP, Fox EA, Sitompul AF. 1996. Manufacture and use of tools in wild Sumatran orangutans – implications or human evolution. Naturwissenschaften 83: 186-188.
  16. ^ Fox EA, Sitompul AF, Van Schaik CP.1999. Intelligent tool use in wild Sumatran orangutans. In: Parker S, Mitchell RW and Miles HL, editors. The Mentality of Gorillas and Orangutans. Cambridge, UK : Cambridge University Press. p: 99-116
  17. ^ O’Malley RC, McGrew WC. 2000. Oral tool use by captive orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). Folia Primatol 71:334–341
  18. ^ a b van Schaik CP, Knott CD. 2001. Geographic variation in tool use on Neesia fruits in orangutans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 114:331-342
  19. ^ van Schaik CP, van Noordwijk MA, Wich SA. 2006. Innovation in wild Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii). Behaviour 143: 839-876
  20. ^ Russon AE, Handayani DP, Kuncoro P, Ferisa A. 2007. Orangutan leaf-carrying for nest-building: toward unraveling cultural processes. Animal Cognition 10:189–202
  21. ^ a b van Schaik CP. Among Orangutans: Red Apes and The Rise of Human Culture. 2004. Cambridge: Harvard University Press ISBN 9780674015777
  22. ^ a b van Schaik CP, Ancrenaz M, Borgen G, Galdikas B, Knott CD, Singleton I, Suzuki A, Utami SS, Merrill M. 2003. Orangutan cultures and the evolution of material culture. Science 299: 102-105
  23. ^ a b Hardus ME, Lameira AR, van Schaik CP, Wich SA. 2009. Tool use in wild orang-utans modifies sound production: a functionally deceptive innovation? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 276 (1673):3689-3694
  24. ^ Dissertation.
  25. ^ "Orangutan Language Project". Think Tank Research Projects. Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Retrieved 2006-12-20. 
  26. ^ Turner, Dorie (2007-04-12). "Orangutans play video games at GA. zoo".;_ylt=ArxSgpzeet8z1adszU5pfW7q188F. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  27. ^ Humans aren’t alone in giving gifts.
  28. ^ Swimming orangutans' spearfishing exploits amaze the wildlife experts.
  29. ^ Chimps, Other Apes Laugh Like People Discovery channel, Jennifer Viegas' interview with study project leader Marina Davila Ross }}
  30. ^ a b c Bradon-Jones, D., A. A. Eudey, T. Geissmann, C. P. Groves, D. J. Melnick, J. C. Morales, M. Shekelle, and C. B. Stewart. 2004. Asian primate classification. International Journal of Primatology. 23: 97-164.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h Singleton, I.; Wich, S.A.; Griffiths, M. (2007), Pongo abelii. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.,, retrieved 2008-04-02 
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ancrenaz, M.; Marshall, A.; Goossens, B.; van Schaik, C.; Sugardjito, J.; Gumal, M.; Wich, S. (2007), Pongo pygmaeus. In: IUCN 2007. 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.,, retrieved 2008-04-02 
  33. ^ Density and population estimate of gibbons (Hylobates albibarbis) in the Sabangau catchment, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
  34. ^ Rijksen, H.D. and Meijaard, E. (1999). Our Vanishing Relative: The Status of Wild Orang-utans at the Close of the Twentieth Century. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 
  35. ^ The oil for ape scandal.
  36. ^ "Five years to save the orang utan". World. The Observer.,,2042243,00.html. 
  37. ^ "The Last Stand of the Orangutan". United Nations Environment Programme. February, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 

External links

Simple English

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Subfamily: Ponginae
Elliot, 1912
Genus: Pongo

[[File:|thumb|200px|a Orangutan climbing]]

An Orangutan (Pongo) is a great ape that has fur with a color between red and brown. There are two species of orangutan. They are from Southeast Asia. There are very few of them left, because loss of the jungle has made many of them die. There are famous orang utans on show at the Singapore Zoo.

The name Orangutan comes from orang hutan, which means man of the forest in Indonesia



  • Genus Pongo
    • Bornean Orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus
    • Sumatran Orangutan, Pongo abelii


Orangutans have red-brown fur. They have very long and strong arms. They also have hands that are good for climbing. The Sumatran Orangutan is smaller and has longer hair/fur than the Bornean Orangutan. Orangutans have been driven into different habitats because of forest depletion and are on the very edge of extinction.


Orangutans are from the rainforests on the islands Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia. They mostly live up in the trees. They eat fruit, leaves and bark, but also insects, bird eggs and small vertebrate animals. They drink water from rain that has been collected in leaves. Orangutans are not comfortable on the ground since they have to push themselves along with fists. Heavy adults move carefully through the trees, using their flexible feet to grasp the tree branches. Smaller orangutans swing with more ease

After a pregnancy of 230-260 days the female gives birth to usually one baby, but sometimes two, every eight to nine years. The little ones stay with their mother for years, riding on their mother's back and learning to move through the forest. Like human babies, the young orangutans are playful and affectionate. When they are five or six years old, they become more independent and eventually go off on their own. [2]

Other websites


  1. Groves, Colin (16 November 2005). Wilson, D. E., and Reeder, D. M. (eds). ed. Mammal Species of the World (3rd edition ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 183-184. ISBN 0-801-88221-4. 
  2. Blue Planet Level 5, written by Dinorah Pous p.70
Look up Ponginae in Wikispecies, a directory of species
Look up Pongo in Wikispecies, a directory of species
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