The Orangutan

World Orangutan Day, August 19th, 2018

These large yet very gentle, red haired apes live in the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo (part of West Malaysia) in South East Asia.

They are the biggest arboreal or tree dwelling animals on the planet spending up to 90% of their time in the canopy of the rain forest.

The orangutan is one of our closest relatives for we share 97% of the same DNA. Orang Hutan means ‘human of the forest’.

Orangutans are well known for being gentle, timid, private and shy. Their lives are still somewhat of a mystery, even to the most devoted of scientists and experts.

Unlike the other apes, orangutans are solitary animals preferring to spend their time alone. Females tend to stay with an infant or other offspring and males take such living to the extreme remaining completely alone for most of their lives.

In captivity these apes can live into their 60s and 70s. In the wild with the natural pressures of jungle life, not to mention the additional pressures exerted by man with poaching and the loss of their natural habitat, the lifespan of these lovely animals is thought to be much less.

Orangutans are naturally very intelligent and make use of their IQ in all manner of ways. They are adept at imitating each other and their human cousins and they use tools to forage for food and make their nests.

Nests are built high in the canopy to protect them from predators such as leopards.

On average females give birth once every 8 years and mothers will carry their offspring for 5 years and often suckle them for 7. Added to this, females tend to wait until they reach their late teens before bearing their first infant. This means that like humans, this great ape has the most intense relationship with its young. It also means that the population of this species has considerable difficulty recovering when their numbers decline.


Young orangutans suckle for up to 7 years and are carried by their mothers until they are 5 years old. This means that this red ape has the most intense relationship with its young after humans.


Orangutans tend to be solitary animals in the wild. Mothers will stay with their offspring but sisters do not remain together. Males are the most solitary often spending 90% of their time alone.

Males and females are really quite different. Males can be up to 3 x the size of females. Males also have cheek pads and a throat pouch. Both help the orangutan create an extremely loud, booming call that allows the ape to communicate over very large distances. In addition, these extra body parts, along with a remarkable and well-developed musculature, add to the size and general impression that the males create. Males will not tolerate any other competitors in the immediate vicinity.

Deborah Boyd-Moss IDEAS & THOUGHTS On behalf of PLANET EARTH

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