Orangutans and the other great apes, including humans, are the most intelligent beings to have evolved on land. As individuals, orangutans display unique and rich personalities. They also provide models for human evolution, in terms of physiology and cognition. As great apes, orangutans are sentient beings who deserve respect and life.
On this page you can learn more about what makes the magnificent red ape so unique and the factors that continue to threaten its survival in the wild.
Orangutan Species Information and Facts
Fossil evidence suggests that during the Pleistocene era - between around 1.8 million years and 11,500 years ago - orangutans lived throughout much of Southeast Asia, from Java in the south, up into Laos and southern China. In 1900, there were approximately 315,000 orangutans.
Orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal in the world. Their preferred habitat is low-lying peat-swamp forest - they are rarely found in habitats over an altitude of 800m.
Primarily frugivorous, orangutans have an important role as seed dispersers. They selectively choose ripe fruit whose seeds are adapted to withstand passage through the orangutans' gut. Once the seeds have passed through the gut, they find themselves in their own little compost pile, which helps them to become established.
Orangutans are wholly dependent on trees for their existence. They are perfectly adapted to life in the forest - they sleep in nests, feed predominantly on fruit and travel with ease through the forest canopy, rarely descending to the forest floor.
Threats to Orangutan Habitat
Orangutans are classified as two separate species. Separated geographically by islands, one is found on Borneo and the other on Sumatra. The IUCN (Redlist 2016) classify the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans as critically endangered.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil produced from the kernels of oil palm trees.
Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest palm oil producers and global demand for this commodity is increasing every year partly due to the expanding biofuel market.
Orangutan populations are threatened because their habitat, low-lying tropical rainforest, is being destroyed and converted to oil palm plantations. By the beginning of 2004, there were 6.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations across Sumatra and Borneo. Of this total area, almost 4 million hectares had previously been forested. Orangutans and the majority of biodiversity supported by tropical rainforests cannot co-exist with oil palm plantations. The use of fire to clear land for plantations is an additional risk to this already serious threat.
Orangutan Reintroduction: Why it’s needed and how it’s done.
The orangutan’s rainforest home is a highly prized commodity, not only for timber but also for the land on which the forests grow, much of which continues to be cleared for oil-palm plantations. The orangutans themselves have the slowest reproductive rate of any mammal species, giving birth only once every seven to nine years. Together, these factors contribute to dwindling orangutan numbers: the Bornean species is endangered and the Sumatran species is critically endangered.
Orangutan Conservation Links
Links to other orangutan and rainforest conservation organisations and bodies.