Orangutans: In Need of Our Help

Orangutans are incredibly beautiful creatures that are gentle and human-like in nature. They’re highly intelligent (on the same level as gorillas and chimpanzees) and have made for fascinating studies. Thanks to biology, we’ve learned that we share about 97 percent of our DNA with these incredible animals, which helps us understand their ability to work through problems and develop deep emotional bonds, particularly for mothers and their young.


For a long time, there were two types of orangutans: Sumatran and Bornean. However, in the fall of 2017, a new type of discovered. The Tapanuli orangutan also lives in the rainforests of Sumatra, but has distinct differences from the Sumatran orangutan. These three types of orangutans are determined by conducting phylogenetic studies to see how they differ in their genetic makeup. These genetic changes lead to differences in appearance and lifestyle for each population since they developed separately over tens of thousands of years.


All orangutans are orange and brown in color, but their sizes differ between the three populations. The Borneo orangutans are the largest and heaviest with the other two populations being slightly thinner. Males are about 165 pounds and anywhere between 4-5 feet long. Females are usually about 100 pounds and under 4 feet long.


Orangutans can be found in Indonesia and Malaysia and then only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, which are small islands belonging to these countries. These locations influence the classification of different types of orangutans. In their diets, Sumatran orangutans seem to eat more fruit and insects, while Tapanulis have a similar diet, but also eat oddities like caterpillars. All orangutans are omnivores and use their flexible hands to get food. Orangutans are highly intelligent and able to use tools to complete tasks.

Orangutan males and females usually stay separate from one another, only interacting during mating seasons. Once they give birth, female orangutans spend about seven years with their young. For the first year of their lives, baby orangutans always hang onto the mother, gripping her fur and going with her wherever she goes. Much of the orangutans’ lives are spent in trees with Tapanulis never being recorded touching the ground. These animals may live up to 50-60 years, though that number can be shorter in the wild.


Since orangutans live in only two main areas, they’re very dependent on their current habitat for survival. Deforestation is particularly harmful to them since they spend most of their lives in trees. Hunting also plays a role in the decimation of orangutan populations. Right now, orangutans are considered critically endangered and it’s up to us to do all we can to help them. Raise awareness and donate to organizations in order to save these gorgeous and gentle animals.

Johan Lorre