Orangutan: 25 Facts I Wish I Knew Before Seeing Them

So, you happen to be in Borneo, minding your own business, when you look up and see your mother’s shag carpet, high in the forest canopy.  Upon closer investigation, you realize her shag carpet is actually the great Orangutan, whose munching happily on some ficus fruit.

What do you do?  Is it time to take a selfie?  Nah, that’s so cliche’, plus it’d be hard to get the angle right.

If only you knew a little about the Orangutan, so you could make the most of this experience.  Have no fear, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are the 25 facts I wish I knew before seeing them.

Quick Orangutan Facts

Let’s break down most important facts first.

1.  An Orangutan Is Not A Monkey

Nope. Sorry to shatter your childhood like this. An orangutan is actually a great Ape, and apes are not monkeys.

Can you name another great ape?  Sure, gorillas and chimpanzees are good examples.

How about looking in the mirror? That’s right, humans are also in the great ape family, and share 96.4% of our DNA with orangutans.

2.  Orangutans Are Independent, Except When Their Not

Orangutans tend to leave their mothers after the first two years of life, and live mostly solitary lives.

However, orangutans do tend to congregate around large fruiting trees, and travel in groups at times.  Do you have your traveling buddy?

3.  Orangutans Differ From Other Great Apes In Significant Ways

While most great apes are knuckle draggers, meaning they walk on their knuckles, orangutans actually walk on their fists.  They are also reddish-brown in color, while most other apes are black.

4.  Orangutans Exhibit Confusing Sexual Dimorphism

The dominant males have distinctive cheek pads to set them apart from the other apes, and use long calls to attract mates and intimidate foes.   Younger males look like females.

Um, that could get awkward.

5.   Orangutans Don’t Get Eaten Much, But When They Do, It’s By Something From Your Nightmares

The main predator of orangutans is the Sumatran Tiger.  Cold, pale eyes watch them from the shadows, ready to pounce.

But even the lesser predators are scary – leopards, packs of wild dogs, and even crocodiles.  Yeah, it’s amazing that there are as many of them as there are left.

Orangutan Behaviors

6.  Orangutans Can Be Friendly, Even When The Friendship Is Kind Of Odd

While Orangutans tend to be quite independent in the wild, they do socialize with each other while feeding and traveling.  So what happens when you have a lonely orangutan meet a rescued Blue tick hound?

Instant friendship, that’s what.  When Suryia the orangutan met Roscoe the Blue tick hound, they formed and instant bond, and have been the best of friends ever since.

I guess Orangutans are dog people.  It makes sense, as the only cat they know, the Sumatran Tiger, tends to eat them when given the chance.

7.  Orangutans Live Only In Borneo And Sumatra

The Orangutan is the only exclusively asian great ape.  It is native to Indonesia and Malaysia, found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.  There are two distinct species of orangutan, one for each island location.

8.  Orangutans Eat Mostly Fruit

Orangutans love fruit.  The love it with a passion.  In fact, for some trees, orangutans are the sole fruit dispenser.

I’ll let you ruminate on what that means.

The do eat other things from time to time, such as vegetation, bark, honey, insects, and even bird eggs.  I guess you could say they’re “sorta vegetarian”, kind like most vegetarians.

9.  Orangutans Can Eat A LOT

You might recall the story of Oshine, the Orangutan, who became grossly obese eating a diet of burgers, jelly, and sweets.   That’s because their instinct is to eat, early and often.

In the wild, this eating is mitigated by other necessary activities, like building shelter and survival, but in captivity these guys can get hungry.

In fact, orangutan mothers tend to give birth during or after the high fruit season, during which time they might consume close to 11,000 calories a day.  But it’s ok, obviously, because they’re eating for two.  Come on guys, no judging.

10.  Orangutans Practice Geophagy

No, that’s not a tantric yoga routine.  Geophagy means that they eat soil and rocks intentionally.

This gives them mineral nutrients that they wouldn’t get from fruit, clay to help absorb toxins, and bulk to combat diarrhea.  Look for this to be the next big diet craze.

11.  It’s Rough Being A Female Orangutan

Females tend to live near a single male, with whom they primarily mate, though there are usually several other females living near him as well.

Male orangutans practice forced copulation, meaning he gets it when he wants it, whether she wants it or not.

12.  All Orangutan Moms Are Single Moms

Since orangutans tend to be an independent bunch, the males don’t stick around to help raise their offspring.

The mother nurtures the child for two years, teaching him forging and construction techniques, until he eventually ventures off on his own.

There is usually eight years between births, and unlike some apes, orangutans don’t practice infanticide, likely due to low population and the long period between births.

13.  Orangutans Build The Most Awesome Nests

Every night, orangutans will construct an elaborate nest, out of branches, sticks, and leaves, in which they will sleep that night.  Some have been shown to have roofs, pillows, and mattresses.

Let’s back up, I said Every Night.  They build these elaborate nests every single night.

That’s amazing, not only for the engineering feet it takes to keep a nest structurally-sound enough for a large ape to sleep in the tops of trees, but because this engineering project has to be revisited every night in a new location.

14.  Orangutans Live A Pretty Consistent Schedule

Orangutans tend to eat for 2 to 3 hours in the morning, nap around midday, travel in the afternoon, and then start building their nests in the evening.

So, essentially, they eat, sleep, and travel.  Sounds to me like every college student ever.

Fun Facts About Orangutan Biology

15.  Baby Orangutans Are Just Adorable

Sure, crazy cat videos are all the rage, but until you’ve seen a baby orangutan, you don’t know what adorable is.

With the wiry hair, big eyes, and human-like expressions, it’s hard not to love these little guys.

16.  Orangutan Titties Do Live Up To The Hype

The derogatory phrase “orangutan titties” has been commonly used to refer to a woman’s breasts who sag down low, and whose nipples are out of proportion to the breasts.

While the usage of the term is unfortunate, the phrase does have some merit when it comes to orangutans.

The breasts of orangutans are quite distinct, sagging low, with prominent nipples sticking out strikingly from the breast.

17.  Orangutans Use Facial Expressions Much Like We Do

The Orangutan is one of the most expressive great apes, communicating using gestures and facial expressions.

They can communicate sadness, happiness, levity, fear and confusion.

18.  Orangutans Are Considered The Most Intelligent Primate

Move over, Bonobos.  The Orangutan isn’t just another pretty face.

Orangutans have been shown to use tools, solve abstract problems, and construct elaborate nests each night.  At the Atlanta Zoo, two orangutans love to play games using touch screens.

So, basically, orangutans are just my children.

19.  Orangutans Come With “Kung-Fu Grip”

The orangutan has four long fingers and an opposable thumb.   Most great apes have that, you might say.

Well, in the case of the orangutan, the tendons keep the thumb spread out from the fingers in a hook formation.  They resemble the old action figures, whose hands were perpetually longing for something to hold on to.

20.  Like Your Older Cousin Who Takes Himself Way Too Seriously, Orangutans Can Grow A Righteous Mustache.

While their faces are largely hairless, some males do grow a prominent ‘stache.

Others may grow full beards, showing us that even apes can be hipsters.

Orangutan Ecology

21.  There Are Two Species Of Orangutans

The Bornean Orangutans live only on the island of Borneo, while the Sumatran Orangutans live, wait for it, on the island of Sumatra.

Sumatran Orangutans are much lighter in color than their Bornean cousins.  Bornean Orangutan fur tends to be courser and darker, while Sumatran Orangutan fur tends to be pale orange.

22.  Orangutans Live In The Trees

The natural home of an orangutan is high in the forest canopy, in the mountains or lowland swampy areas.  This shelters them from predators, and provides them with food and materials for their nightly nests.

They do venture down to forest floor from time to time, much more in Borneo, than in Sumatra.  Those Sumatran Tigers are no joke.

23.  Orangutans Are Endangered

Human activity has caused sever decline in the population and range of orangutans.

Poaching, destruction of their natural habitat, and the illegal pet trade have contributed to the drastic decline in wild orangutan populations.

The Bornean Orangutan had an endangered status, while the Sumatran Orangutan is considered critically endangered.

The Palm Oil industry has been the most damaging to orangutan habitat. Dense forests, ideal for orangutans, are being converted into palm oil plantations, with no signs of slowing.

24. Several Organizations Are Dedicated To Saving Orangutans

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and Orangutan Foundation International are just a few organizations dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation of orangutans.

Other entities, like the Orangutan Land Trust, work with the Palm Oil Industry to incorporate more orangutan-friendly farming practices.

25. You Can Visit Orangutan At Close Distance (Exact Location is Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre)

“A boardwalk which leads to a viewing gallery and feeding platform where the apes are fed milk and bananas twice a day at 10am and 3pm by rangers. Feeding time also attracts long-tailed macaques to the area.” according to sabahtourism.com

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre is located about 25 kilometres west of Sandakan in the state of Sabah, East Malaysia. – Wikipedia

Address: Sabah Wildlife Department, W.D.T. 200, Sandakan, Jalan Sepilok, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia

Think, a zoo, with only one animal, and you can get up close and personal with orangutans in their natural environment, and see some crazy stuff that only that kind of environment could provide.

Now that you’re armed with the appropriate orangutan base knowledge, it’s time to venture out and see some orangutans!