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Facts About the Endangered Bornean Orangutan

Kulbhushaan Raghuvanshi
The only 'Great Ape' that still exists in Asia, orangutans can only be found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. This beautiful mammal is called 'Man of the Forest', and at present is one of the protective mammal species in the continent. Here are some interesting facts about these extraordinary creatures.
'Orangutan' is a Malayan term that means Man or Person of the Forest. Orangutans are highly intelligent, and possess an ability to think and reason. Recent studies have shown that the 'Great Ape' is also the closest human relative, sharing about 98% of our DNA.
Not surprisingly, they are also capable of using tools, computers, solving problems and can even smile, whimper and cry like humans. As orangutans are born without a tail, they tend to be larger and heavier as compared to other monkeys. These mammals are divided in two species: the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii).
The Sumatran orangutan is the rarer and even smaller in size than the Bornean orangutan. Both the species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. While the Bornean orangutan is listed as 'Endangered', with an estimated population of 104,700, the Sumatran orangutan is classified as 'Critically Endangered' with around 7,500 left in the wild.

Why are Orangutans Endangered?

The constant destruction and degradation of tropical rainforests is the main reason for the endangerment of orangutans. Occasional forest fires caused by the El Niño weather phenomena is a big threat as well. Lush trees are being cleared for agriculture, conversion of forest land to palm oil plantations, mining, and road construction.
In addition to orangutans being used as a food source by the locals, they are often hunted for sport and considered an important commodity in the illegal pet trade industry. They are considered a desirable pet in Asia, particularly in Taiwan. It was also reported that almost 2000 orangutans are exported every year through illegal trading.
Recent preservation efforts have helped open reserves in Borneo and Sumatra to preserve the current orangutan population, but it is still unclear whether these reserves can really save their diminishing population.

Interesting Facts about the Endangered Bornean Orangutan

▶ The Bornean orangutan is the largest arboreal animal, and the third-heaviest living primate after the two gorilla species. ▶ Males can weigh as much as 165 pounds, while females are about half their size, and weigh almost 80 to 85 pounds. Males stand about five feet tall, while females are about 3 feet tall.
▶ The lifespan of a Bornean orangutan is about 35 - 40 years in the wild, though sometimes the animal will live to its 50s in captivity.
▶ Bornean orangutans can be found in the tropical and subtropical moist broad leaf forests in the islands. They can also be located in mountainous areas up to 1,500 meters above sea level.
▶ Their arms are longer than their legs, and when stretched out their arm span is even longer than their body. The arm of an average adult can easily be up to 2.3 meters.
▶ Unlike other great apes, orangutans prefer living a solitary life, with the exception of a mother and her young ones. However, in the Sumatra islands bigger groups have been found when food supply is plentiful. Males and females only interact to mate.
▶ Sexually matured males develop distinctive physical features such as fleshy cheek pads and fat crown on the head. To attract females and warn of other males, orangutans produce a special call known as the 'Long Call'.
▶ Females give birth about once in every eight to ten years - making it the longest inter-birth interval of any land-living mammal in the world.
▶ After giving birth, the young ones stay with their mothers for almost nine to ten years, because there is so much that a young orangutan has to learn to survive until it reaches puberty, at around eight years.
Females tend to stay close to their mother to learn mothering skills, by watching younger siblings get raised.

▶ Even though they are capable of covering short distances in an upright position, orangutans travel mostly by brachiating (swinging through branches) through trees.
▶ It has been observed that the Bornean orangutan travels on the ground more than its Sumatran counterpart. This may be because the Bornean orangutan faces no threat from large terrestrial predators. However in Sumatra, orangutans are often hunted by the Sumatran tiger.
▶ The diet of a Bornean orangutan is made up of flowers, leaves, bark, insects for proteins, and most importantly, over 300 kinds of fruits. They also consume the inner shoots of plants and vine, and also prey on smaller primates such as slow lorises.
▶ Orangutans are usually preyed upon by larger carnivores like tigers, bears, and leopards. However at present, humans are considered their biggest predators.
▶ Orangutans have dexterous hands and feet which are used for peeling, and large flat teeth that help them digest hard food like barks and seeds. Bornean orangutans have also been observed using tools to help them in various activities.

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Due to the large number of human activities, the population of Bornean orangutans has seen a sharp decline in recent years. But, a number of rehabilitation projects like the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, the Orangutan Foundation International and the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary are doing everything to ensure the safety of this magnificent creature.