Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild


The Malay word orangutan means "person of the forest." These orange coloured primates are highly intelligent and are closely related to humans, sharing 97% of our DNA.

Orangutans have an enormous arm span - a male may stretch his arms 2m wide, which is longer than he is tall. When an orangutan stands upright, its arms almost touch the ground. Their arms are very strong and powerful, and well suited to the orangutans' lifestyle as they spend over 20 hours a day in the trees.  Their arms help them to swing easily from branch to branch; if a baby orangutan can’t reach across a gap its mother with form a bridge for it to climb over. 

Orangutans sleep high up in the trees in a nest of leafy branches, which they make fresh each day. Sometimes they will add a roof, or hold a branch above their head like an umbrella if it is raining. They are also intelligent enough to use tools in other ways: they poke twigs into holes to catch insects; chew up leaves to use as sponges to soak up water to drink; use sticks to test the depth of water before entering it and use leaves like gloves to pick prickly fruits.

Males grow distinctive cheek pads as they mature, continuing to grow throughout their life. When males are fighting, they charge each other, grapple like sumo wrestlers, and bite each others’ heads and cheek pads.

Like humans and the other great apes, orangutans have an opposable thumb which makes it easy for them to grasp and manipulate objects. Their big toes are also opposable so they can grab things with their feet. It is thought that approximately one third of all orangutans do not have nails on their big toes.

© Gail Angela Campbell-Smith

They are found only in Sumatra and Borneo, two tiny islands in Southeast Asia. They are the only great ape to be found outside of Africa.

Since orangutans live in such a small area and are so dependent upon trees, they are susceptible to habitat loss due to human activity. Deforestation, mining, agriculture and building are destroying their habitat at such a rate that 80% has already been lost.  Development also means more roads which make it easier for poachers to reach the orangutans, kill them for their meat or capture them for the pet trade.

Recent estimates indicate fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans and 50,000 Bornean orangutans survive in the wild today, and they are declining at a rate of between 3,000 and 5,000 every year.  Within 10 to 20 years they could be extinct.

Males: Male
Females: Female
Max speed: 3mph
Body height: 1.2-1.5m when standing
Tail length: No tail
Weight: females 30-50kg males 50-100kg
Age expectancy: 30-40 years
Diet: Fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, honey, insects, vines, shoots
Habitat: Tropical rain forest
Found in: Tropical rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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