The Red People Of The Forest

Orangutans are great apes found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. There are 2 species of the orangutan - the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus). Known as 'man of the forest', it is one of mankind's closest relatives.

Adult male orangutans can weigh up to 100 kg, with females about half that. Males develop cheek-pads when they are about 15 years old, helping them to attract female mates. Like humans, orangutans have opposable thumbs, but they also have opposable toes. They walk on all fours, and swing from branch to branch using their very long arms to search for food. They often hang upside-down from branches, eating fruit and fresh leaves.

Orangutans are the only arboreal apes and are well adapted to their treetops lifestyle. They have a unique ability to travel through trees, and this is where they live, sleep and build nests, sometimes 100 ft above the ground. In fact, orangutans are the largest tree dwelling mammals in the world. Their red colour is also extremely unusual and one of their distinctive features.

Orangutans have the ability to reason and think and their DNA is 97% similar to that of humans. They are remarkably intelligent and are known for using feeding tools.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
As its habitat is constantly being usurped by man to satisfy his needs, the orangutan is in grave danger of extinction. Orangutans were once found throughout southeast Asia, ranging all the way into southern China.

However, today they can only be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, with ¾ of their population being concentrated in Borneo. It is estimated that their numbers may have diminished by as much as 50% in the past decade.

Destruction and degradation of the tropical rainforest which is their natural habitat is the main threat facing orangutans. Illegal logging, mining, road construction, settlements and forest fires continuously disturb their abode. Illegal animal trade and hunting are other factors which threaten their survival. If this pattern continues, the last orangutan may be dead in another 10 years.

According to IUCN's (World Conservation Union's) Red List of Threatened Species, the Sumatran orangutan is 'critically endangered' and the Bornean orangutan is 'endangered'.

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