Orangutan means 'person of the forest'. It comes from the Malay words 'orang' meaning people and 'hutan' meaning "forest".
Orangutans are a species of great ape along with gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Great apes are a group of mammals that all have large brains, forward-facing eyes and gripping hands. Humans are also great apes. In fact, we share 96.4% of our genetic makeup with orangutans!
Orangutans are known to be daydreamers and semi-solitary animals.
Unlike gorillas, and chimpanzees, orangutans do not live in large social or family groups. Adult males are usually found alone and adult females are usually accompanied by one or two offspring.
In the wild, orangutans usually stay with their mothers until they're about eight years old. Orangutans have the longest childhood of the great apes because, once they grow up, they don't have a troop around to give them more lessons. These solitary animals must learn all the lessons of finding fruit, building nests, and other survival techniques before they set off on their own.
Orangutans are active during the day, and spend a lot of time foraging for food. Fruit is their main diet but they also feed on leaves, bark, seeds, flowers, buds, insects and eggs.
The orangutan is well adapted for life in the trees. Orangutans spend all their lives among the trees in fact they are the largest tree living animals. Sleeping in trees may sound odd for such a large animal, but they make sleeping platforms padded with leaves and twigs. These nests can be as much as 60 feet above the ground.
The orangutan can grasp branches with both its hands and feet and has very mobile shoulder and hip joints.
Orangutans are very clever. They have been known to observe villagers use boats to cross waterways, and then untie the boat and ride it across the river on their own!
A San Diego Zoo Orangutan (Ken Allen) was known to be a master escape artist. He would unscrew bolts with his fingers, reach around to unlatch things, or climb up a steep incline by the back of his enclosure to slip over a wall. Each time keepers figured out one of his escape routes, he would create a new one. He didn't mind being led back into his enclosure, he would enjoy the challenge of finding a new way to escape!
Male orangs are about twice the size of females, standing four and a half feet tall and weighing 130 to 200 pounds. Females stand about two and a half feet tall and weigh 90 to 110 pounds.
An orangutan's arms stretch out longer than their bodies—over 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip!
When they are about 15 years old, male orangs develop large cheek pads and a throat pouch. The male inflates his throat pouch to make a loud sound called a "long call" which alerts other orangutans to his presence and attract females. Female orangs find the pads to be very attractive!
In the wild, orangutans may live up to 45 years and they may live to be 60 in a zoo. The oldest captive orangutan was a male called "Guas" at the Philadelphia Zoo who lived until he was 58!
The greatest threat to orangutans is the loss of their rainforest habitat. Tropical rainforests are being cut down for timber and the land cleared for mining and palm oil plantations. Orangutans have lost 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years! Orangutans are occasionally killed or injured by farmers who consider orangutans to be pests. If a female orangutan is found with an infant, the mother may be killed and the infant sold into the illegal pet trade. In 1900, there were over 315,000 wild orangutans. Today, there are approximately 50,000. That is a decrease of 80% of the orangutan population.