Orangutan Of Sabah

Sabah Wildlife Articles and Vacation Guide

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Ensuring The Survival Of The Orangutan

Orangutan which literally means 'forest people' in the Malay language is the largest arboreal or tree dwelling animal in the world. Being arboreal, means that they spent most of their life living on treetops and swinging from tree to tree where they gets all their needs. They very seldom use their legs for walking and rarely come down to the ground to avoid being prey to their predator such as tigers, leopards and crocodile. They are equipped with long and powerful arms to enable them to swing from tree to tree with ease. Their fingers and toes are also curved as if a hook so that they can easily hangs on the tree branches.

Today, these orangish-red-haired great apes can only be found in the rainforests of Sumatra Island and Borneo Island although their fossils have been found from countries around South East Asia such as Java, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and from China. Originally, thought to be of the same species, the orangutans from Sumatra and Borneo have now been classified as two different species since the mid-1990s. The two species are Pongo pygmaeus which can be found in Borneo Island and Pongo abelii which is from Sumatra. Both of these species seems to have separated about 400,000 years ago and appearance wise looks very similar to each other although the Sumatran orangutans are said to have a more narrow face and a sparser and lighter colored furs. The only method to differentiate the different species will be through chromosomal or DNA analysis.

Orangutan is the largest primates in Asia with the largest males capable of reaching the height of more than 5 feet and over 200 pounds. Females’ orangutans are normally smaller than the males with height of about 4 feet and weigh of about 100 pounds. Both sexes have throat pouches, which enable them to produce various sounds which are used to communicate and to intimidate their rivals. The males, especially the fully developed one which also have a disc-like cheek flaps will use their more developed throat pouches to make very long loud calls that can be heard up to 0.6 mile (or 1 km) to attract females and to stake their territory.

Orangutans are omnivores but their diets are made up mainly from forest fruits such as durians, jackfruits, mangoes, figs and others. They will swing from tree to tree through the forest in search of fruiting trees and when they found one, they will spend their whole day on top of the tree, feeding on the fruits. Although forest fruits make up over 90% of their diet, other food that they consume includes leaves and shoots, honey, small insects and bird eggs. They are also known to eat tree bark and practice geophagy (the eating of soil or rock rich in minerals). Orangutans’ genetic makeup is almost similar to human with 96.4% identical. As such, it is no wonder that they are the most intelligent primates after human today. They are the only animal that has been found with the ability to create and use a variety of tools in their daily life. They make their own sleeping places every night from tree branches and foliage. They can also use tools for extracting insects from holes or hollows of tree and are known to use seed-extraction tools for taking out seeds from hard-husked fruit.

Orangutans are considered as solitary apes as adult of both sexes tend to live and travel alone. They are shy animals that are active during the day and normally spend much of their adult life alone and in avoidance of others of their kind. The exception to this is during the sharing of the same fruit tree where they will gather in large number, during mating and during the weaning period between a mother orangutan and her kid. Female’s orangutan reach child bearing age at around eight to ten years of age and on average will give birth only one every eight years as they need to nurse their young for the first six to seven years before they can give birth and take care of a new offspring.

The orangutans are considered an endangered species today and their greatest threat is the loss of their rainforest habitat, which is shrinking fast. Their main enemy is humankind who is responsible for much of the destruction of the forest which they lived. Large areas of rainforests in Sumatra and Borneo have been cut down for logging. De-forestation due to forest fire, whether natural or man-made to clear the forest for plantations of palm oil and other cash crops have also reduce their habitat greatly. Orangutans are also known to be killed by plantation owners and farmers who consider them as a pest to their cash crop as they stray too near to human areas in search of food. Hunting is another threat to the survival of orangutans as baby orangutan have been known to be taken from their murdered mother and sold into the illegal pet trade.

The future survival of orangutans in the wild looks bleak. They are in danger of becoming extinct in the wild in the near future without the intervention and help from us. The governments of Borneo and Sumatra have realized this and have taken the initiatives to protect them. Many sanctuary and rehabilitation centers have been set up in Sumatra and Borneo to treat and care for sick, injured or orphaned orangutans. These rehabilitated apes will finally be released back into the wild with hopes that they will re-populate back the forests.

Did you know about the following interesting and fun facts about the orangutan:

  1. Orangutan arms are longer than their bodies. Adult arms can measures well over two meters from fingertip to fingertip.
  2. Their life span has been recorded at 35 years in the wild. In captive, they can live up to 60 years old.
  3. Orangutan have hands that are almost the same as ours i.e. they have four long fingers and a thumb.
  4. Their main diets are the tropical fruit from the rainforest. Other foods that they consume are young leaves, shoots, bark, insects, honey and bird eggs.
  5. Adult Orangutan is a loner and usually travel alone. They seldom mix with each other except during mating.
  6. Young male orangutans mature sexually when they are about 15 years old. By this age, young males will have a fully descended testicle and can start to reproduce. For females, their first ovulation cycle start from 6 to 11 years.
  7. Young infants will cling to their mothers for the first four months and will very rarely move far apart from their mother until they are four to five years old. They will continue to stay with their mother until they are 11 to 12 years.

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