The Orangutan

Samar Sinha

Since World Orangutan Day is coming up on August 19th, let us talk a bit about orangutans. Orangutans are great apes – very close relatives of us – that live in southeast Asia. They currently live on Sumatra and Borneo, two islands in the Malay Archipelago, but they earlier used to live in mainland Asia like Thailand and Laos, and could even be found in China.

There are three species of orangutans:
1. Sumatran Orangutans: These have a light orange coat that is longer than of Bornean Orangutans.
2. Bornean Orangutans: These apes have a more reddish-brown coat. They have shorter beards.
3. Tapanuli Orangutans: Scientists in Sumatra recently discovered a group of orangutans that is actually a new type. It is highly endangered because there are only about 800 of them currently on Earth. The Tapanuli orangutans have a cinnamon brown coat.

Orangutans live in nests that they build every night. Most orangutans can build one in less than 10 minutes. They can last many months, but the orangutan only spends one night in its nest and builds a fresh one in a different tree the next night.

Fruits count for about 75% of an orangutan’s food. They also eat a lot of other food, like ants and termites, other parts of many plants, honey, and sometimes soil! They even steal birds’ eggs from nests sometimes.

Orangutans are the cleverest apes on the planet, other than humans. Zoos have a lot of trouble with orangutans because they’re so good at escaping. However, could they be smarter than us? One experiment was held to see whether an orangutan could get a peanut out of a thin tube. At once, the orangutan ran to the water jug, filled its mouth with water, and spat it into the tube. The peanut floated to the top. Even the humans who took the test found it hard to come up with a solution to get the peanut out without using special tools!

Orangutans are in danger because of humans. There are only about 57,000 orangutans left, which may sound a lot, but about 1,000 orangutans are dying EVERY YEAR. The main reason is that rainforests are being cut down for palm oil plantations. People are also mining on the once forest land. Orangutan babies are often sold illegally as pets and to do so, the mother is often shot.

We can try and help save the orangutans by not buying palm oil products. Most sugary stuff has palm oil in them, like chocolates and ice cream. Make-up, laundry, soap, and candles also have palm oil. If you really need palm oil, check for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the RSPO symbols on these products. The FSC symbol can even be found at the back of some books like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and the Percy Jackson series.

Whatever the situation on our planet, we need to know more about orangutans to understand how to protect them and save them from extinction.


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