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Today is International Orangutan Day 2021, and we thought we’d celebrate by running through 5 extraordinary facts about the orangutan.

But first, what is an orangutan?

Orangutans are great apes found on south-east Asia. Consisting of three species, Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), the orangutan is one of our most beloved great apes. Also known as the red ape, the orangutan has varying shades of orange/red hair and are extraordinarily charismatic to look at.

Now we know what an orangutan is, let’s jump into some facts.

DID YOU KNOW? Orangutan is Person of the Forest in Malay.


All species of orangutan build nests to sleep in. They build large oval nests high up in the canopy of their rainforest. These nests are created every day ready for their night’s sleep. Scientist believe these nests may protect the orangutan from predators and parasite, but it is also thought the nest is built for warmth during sleeping. Interestingly, researchers reported that orangutans use specific branches for different parts of the nests and will manipulate and break branches depending on its use.

Culture was once thought to be unique to humans, however orangutans also display a variety of cultural traditions. Many traditions are passed down from mother to infant and can involves plant use, social gestures, and food preference. Orangutans present cultural variations in their communication, particularly gestures. A common gesture in orangutans called ‘kiss greeting’, is a pursing kissing of their lips. This gesture is a threat sound they make when meeting an unfamiliar orangutan and has also been displayed when meeting humans. In some areas of their habitat individuals have been seen using leaves to display the ‘kiss greeting’, however in other field sites they may not use the leaves at all. This is a perfect example of culture within a population and can be compared to how people greet each other in different parts of the country.

The orangutan is the only great ape to spend much of its time up in the trees. This has given the orangutan the title for the largest arboreal mammal. Male orangutans typically weigh 83kg and can grow up to 5ft tall. Their long muscular arms aid the orangutan in gracefully swinging through the canopy.

Dominant males will develop distinctive cheek pads, also known as flanges, when they reach maturity at around 35 years old. This characteristic is thought to amplify the males’ long calls to intimidate rivals and helps them attract females.

Sadly, the orangutan population continues to decline. The Bornean orangutan has only 57,350 individuals left in the wild. The Sumatran orangutan has approximately 14,470 individuals. However, the newly recognised species of orangutan (2017), the Tapanuli orangutan, is the most critical with only 800 individuals. The decline in orangutan populations has now meant that all species of orangutan are Critically Endangered.

Orangutans throughout Borneo and Sumatra are facing a bundle of threats, from swamp fires to their habitats being destroyed to make way for commercial oil palm plantations. If you want to support orangutan conservation, be sure to donate and support the following organisations.

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