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The Threatened Orangutan

Updated on October 14, 2014

Introducing the Orangutan

The name orangutan means ' Man of the Woods', which is an apt description, of this the third largest primate, after the two species of gorilla { see my hub Great Gorillas}, and are the largest living truly arboreal species.

The skin of the young Orangutan resembles that of a human child to a high degree, however, as the animal grows older, the animal nature kicks in, and the likeness almost entirely disappears. Indeed science has proved the orangutan shares 97% of DNA with humans. The orangutan can be trained to a high degree, testament to this can be observed in the popular Clint Eastwood movie -Every Which Way But Loose 1978- when Manis the orangutan played the the part of the actors sidekick Clyde. { the orangutan that played the part of Clyde in the sequel 'Any Which Way you Can' died shortly after the movie had been completed}.

Orangutans are truly arboreal primates


Description and life -style of the orangutan

The orangutan can be distinguished by its out of proportion long arms reaching as far as its ankle joint, the conically shaped head and protruding jaw. The forehead of the adult is flat, the muzzle prominent, the nose is pressed flat. The eyes and ears are small and resemble those of a human being.

The canines are the most formidable among the teeth and the lower jaw is longer than the upper. the hair on the face grows beard like. The face itself is devoid of hair. The neck is very short and thick and rendered apparently thicker by a pouch of skin on each side which swells when the creature screams or yells.

When the orangutan stands or walks on the hind limbs, the points of the fingers touch the ground, and, they do not need to bend very far to be able to walk on all fours. the hind limbs are just as short in proportion has the arms are long. They are ill adapted for walking. it is compelled to walk on the outer edges in the manner of the sloth because the sole can not be turned as to be a base on the ground.

The leg and thigh bones are very short but with the exception of this inability to put the sole of the foot on the ground, the motions of all the joints of the legs are remarkably true, and the muscles very powerful. The ankle joints move in the manner of wrist joints,and, the foot is much more like a hand. They are still hands, however, of which the chief power is of grasping is in the fingers, for the thumbs are very short, and in some individuals they are without nails.

The orangutan is powerfully strong for its size. They leap from the ground into the branches, and so from branch to branch, with impressive agility. The orangutan can grasp a branch with its feet, balances its body perfectly before reaching for another with its long arms and swings across. In this manner he travels expertly and efficiently through his arboreal pasture.

Courtesy of Peter J Corbett

Orangutan being attacked by Dyacks

Public Domain
Public Domain | Source

Historical accounts.

Bontius a 17th century Physcian states------ " I have seen these 'dwellers of the wood' several times, males as well as females. they sometimes walk erect and behaved like humans. On female I saw was ashamed when strangers looked at her, and covered her face with her hands. She would sigh and weep and do everything exactly like a human being, she only lacked speech."

Wallace {1800s}-makes these observations--" We know that the orangutan is a native of Borneo and Sumatra, and we have come to think they are limited to these two islands. he is found in extensive tracts of land in the south west, south east, north west and north east coasts, but occurs exclusively in marshy low lying woods.. In Sadong he his only found in the plains covered with virgin forests and crossed by many rivers.

" Isolated mountains, inhabited by Dyaks and planted with fruit trees form a point of attraction for the Mias {orangutan}. They often visit them on account of the fruits, but always retreat to their bogs at night. In all those parts of the country where the surface rises and is dry, the orangutan does not appear."

"An extensive plain of uninterrupted and level virgin forest seems a condition essential to this ape. These forests offer him a field of unimpeded progress as a prairie to an Indian or the desert to an Arab. He goes from tree top to tree top without ever alighting to the ground. A high and dry country, with the trees cleared away in places, and, the ground covered with underbrush, may be adapted for men, but not for this ape, with its peculiar mode of locomotion."

" It is an attractive and strange spectacle to see a Mias easily making his way through the forest. Without hurry he goes along the larger boughs, in a semi-erect position, which the lengths of his arms and the shortness of his legs render obligatory. He always seems to select trees, whose branches inter-weave. He stretches out his long arms, seizes the branches with both hands, seemingly trying their strength, and, then deliberately launches himself forward upon the next tree where he goes through the same performance. He never hops or jumps, or seems in the least hurry, yet he proceeds on his way as quickly as a man could run underneath."

Dr.Abel {1800s} while in Java observed--" He {the orangutan} lodged in a large tamarind tree near my dwelling, and formed a bed by inter-twining the small branches and covering them with leaves. During the day, he would lie with his head projecting from the nest, watching whoever may pass under, and when he saw anyone with fruit, would descend to obtain a share of it. He always retired at night at sunset, or sooner if he had been well fed, and rose with the sun and visited those from whom he habitually received food"

Orangutan standing erect

Slow breeding cycle.

The orangutan has the slowest breeding cycle of all primates. The females only achieve sexual maturity at around 12-15 years of age. They, give birth to a single young {with very rare exceptions, twins}. Thereafter they tend to give birth to a single young every 7-9 years.

Infants are totally dependent on their mothers and cling to them for the first two or three years. Weaning occurs at around the age of 3-5 years, but the infant will remain close to their mothers for a further 3 years. When the time comes for the young to disperse, studies have revealed that females usually set up a territory very close to their mothers, while males tend to move much further away.

This long birth period { the longest of any land mammal} means that during her lifetime {50 years +} she can only produce a maximum of four young during her lifetime.

Baby orangutan taking a nap--Chilling out

            Original photograph on Flickr  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
Original photograph on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License | Source

A glimpse at the species

The Bornean Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus is native to the Island of Borneo. Pongo being the only genus of great apes native to Asia. There are three subspecies--Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus referred to as the North West Bornean orangutan. Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii referred to as the Central Bornean Orangutan and Pongo pygmaeus morio, which is referred to as the North East Bornean Orangutan.

The Bornean Orangutan lives in moist broad-leaved forests in the Bornean lowlands, but may be found up to 14-1,500 feet above sea level. Studies have revealed that their diet consists of a diverse range of food which includes figs,leaves,seeds,bird eggs,honey, insects and many species of fruit.

The males are 3.9 to 4.6 feet tall and weigh 75kg.{170lb}, females 38.5kg {85lb} and slightly shorter at 3.3 feet-3.9 feet long. This species is more common than the Sumatra Orangutan. Due to declines in population numbers this species is classed as Endangered by the IUCN-see conservation issues below.

The Sumatra Orangutan Pongo albelii. As its common name suggests this species is an inhabitant of the Island of Sumatra { Indonesia}. Compared to the former species this one is much more of a fruit eater although it will supplement its diet with insects, birds eggs and small vertebrates. They tend to be more sociable than the Bornean species with groups feeding together.

This species is classed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN and they feature on the list of the Worlds most 25 endangered primates.

Conservation Issues-2012

The Sumatra orangutan has stated above is on the list of the Worlds most Endangered primates. Habitat loss and fragmentation of habitat along with logging, conversion to agricultural land and the growing oil palm plantations have all contributed to their demise.

According to the "edgeofexistence" website, the pet trade, which was booming from 1990 until the 1960s, with a further surge in the 1980s resulted in the death of 30,000 orangutans. population declines for orangutans are estimated to be 80% over the last 75 years. There are believed to be just 6,600 individuals left in the wild.

The Orangutan Foundation is one of several conservation groups working to save these creatures from extinction. Their Mission Statement --" saving orangutans by protecting their tropical forest habitat, working with local communities and promoting research and education.

Their approach goes beyond that of purely protecting orangutans. It recognises that orangutan habitat id unique in its richness of biodiiversity and is crucial for local communities who are dependent on the forest as is the orangutan. Even when protection is the primary aim it is a sad fact that these wonderful animals are still subject of persecution. Here is a press release from The Orangutan Foundation {London UK} November 5-2012---" A wounded female orangutan, rescued from an oil plantation in the Indonesian part of Borneo, where she had been roaming for about a month, has survived an operation to remove 32 of the total 104 air-gun pellets in her body. An x-ray showed that a dozen pellets had lodged in and around her eyes.

She has now lost sight in both her eyes, so that food and water for her, must be placed near her hands. " The female named Aan can never be released back into the wild but will be looked after by the foundation.

Aan was badly wounded

The arrows point to the pellets that were embedded in the hapless creature
The arrows point to the pellets that were embedded in the hapless creature | Source

The threats are real and continuing

According to new research being carried out by the John Moores University { Liverpool North West England} conservation scientist the Bornean orangutan is facing extinction. Professor Serge Wich and his colleagues have found out that only 22% of the already protected species are actually living in protected areas. The research also shows that the rest of the orangutans are inhabiting areas used for logging 29%, oil palm plantations 19%, Industrial tree plantations 6%, or in land that is not designated for any specific use 24%..

Commenting on the research professor Wich said " this research paints a bleak picture for the Bornean orangutan. To avoid this potential decline Plantation development in orangutan habitats must be halted because it infringes national laws on orangutan protection"

Further growth of the oil palm plantation sector should be achieved by increasing the productivity of trees in existing plantations and expansion of plantations into areas that have already been deforested. { Source Wildlifeextra,com}.

It is an optimistic view that orangutans can survive in areas of logging and the fact is that many more will be lost, if some sort of agreement between developers and conservationists can not be reached. I hope for the sake of these wonderful animals, which are our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom, that a plan for the their well being can be agreed soon, or, this will be another species that out grandchildren will never have the opportunity to see in their natural habitat.

Swinging along---

Public domain
Public domain | Source

Threats and Conservation updates October 2014

The world's third largest island Borneo is owned by three different countries. The largest portion,Kalimantan, belongs to Indonesia, the rest is home to two Malaysian states,-Sarawak and Sabah-and the entire tiny country of Brunei,and of course the home to the Bornean orangutan Pongo pygmaeus.

About twenty years ago the Indonesian government earmarked one million hectares of peat swamp forest in southern Kalimantan for conversion to rice paddies under the Mega Rice project {MRP}. Substantial investments went into the construction of irrigation canals and leveling forests for conversion. But as experts had predicted, the project failed and was eventually abandoned after it had considerably damaged the environment.

Forest cover in the area nose dived from 64.8% in 1991,before the project wad initiated to 45.7% in 2000. The channels intended for irrigation,instead drained out the water from the naturally water-logged peat swamps leaving them vulnerable to fires,which continue to break out on an immense scale,destroying forests and crops.,killing wildlife and producing dangerous haze that is impacting on air quality regionally and beyond .

A new study publishes recently in Oryx describes the dire situation faced by Orangutans in their shrinking forest habitat, along with an ambitious project to save them. The population has halved in just fourteen years. According to Forest Watch Kalimantan lost more than 11% of its forests from 2001 through 2012,amounting to more than six million hectares. However, as harvesting of already established tree plantations may be confused for forest loss,the amount of actual deforestation may be lower.

To read more about the ambitious conservation project and other information visit --


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