August 19th, every year is set as International Orangutan Day! This event is to help encourage the public to take action in preserving this amazing species. Orangutan is a large ape of Borneo and Sumatra that lives in trees, eats mostly fruit, leaves, and other plant matter, and has very long arms, long reddish brown hair, and a nearly hairless face.

Orangutan, or orang, Genus (Pongo, family Hominidae) of arboreal great ape, found only in the lowland swamp forests of Borneo and Sumatra but originally in the tropical forests of South Asia as well. The orangutan (Malaysian for “person of the forest”) has a short thick body, long arms, short legs, and shaggy reddish hair. Males are about 4.5 ft (137 cm) tall and weigh about 185 lb (85 kg); females are smaller. Orangutans are placid, deliberate, ingenious, and persistent. Males have flat fatty cheekpads and a baglike pendulous swelling at the throat. Orangutans use all four limbs to walk and climb. They eat mostly figs and other fruits and some leaves, bark, and insects. They sleep in trees on a platform built of interwoven branches. Adults are solitary and live far apart, coming together only for a brief courtship. The mother carries and nurses the single young for almost three years. Though generally silent, the adult male has a loud roaring “long call.” Each of the three known orangutan species is critically endangered.

Orangutans are the largest arboreal animals, spending more than 90 percent of their waking hours in the trees. During the day most of their time is divided equally between resting and feeding. Orangutans are predominantly ripe-fruit eaters, although they consume more than 400 different types of food, including invertebrates and, on rare and opportunistic occasions, meat. Almost every night orangutans construct a sleeping platform in the trees by bending and breaking branches, leaves, and twigs. Unlike the African apes, orangutans frequently use vegetation to protect themselves from the rain.

Orangutans are “gardens” of the forest, playing a vital role in seed dispersal in their habitats. They live in tropical forest and prefer forest in river valleys and floodplains of their respective islands. orangutans’ extremely low reproductive rate makes their populations highly vulnerable. Females give birth to one infant at a time about 3-5 years, so these species can take long time to recover from population declines. With human pressure only increasing orangutans face an increasing risk of extinction. From 1992-2000, the population of the Sumatran orangutan is considered to have declined by more than 50%. Its relative, the Bornean orangutan population fell nearly 43 percent in the past decade, from 35,000 in 1996 to 20,000 in 2006. Since these studies were done, deforestation rates have continued to climb which means the actual populations could be well below these.

 Orangutan is known for their distinctive red fur, orangutans are the largest arboreal mammal, spending most of their time in trees. Long, powerful arms and grasping hands and feet allow them to move through the branches. These great ape share 96.4% of our genes and are highly intelligent creatures and that’s why they go by the name orangutan means “Man of the forest” in the Malay language. We shall all take action to save orangutans and that is the reason for International Orangutan Day!

About the Author: Kaior Alu James is an Undergraduate Student, Department of Wildlife and Range Management, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi

Editor: Muhammad Nazim