Happy World Orangutan Day! Never heard of it? Don’t worry. This is the first year.
It’s about time orangutans get some appreciation; they’ve been struggling just to stay alive because of the logging industry’s detrimental effect on them. According to the World Orangutan Day website:
From 1992-2000, the population of the Sumatran orangutan declined by more than 50% and only an estimated 7,000 animals are left in the wild. Its relative, the Bornean orangutan population fell nearly 43% in the past decade and estimates place their population at about 45,000 animals. Since the last population estimates were done, deforestation rates have continued to climb which means the actual populations could be well below these.
Yikes. Look up at the top of this post at that adorable face. Are you going to tell me that face that you aren’t going to bring attention to their plight? You monster. I’m not worried though. I think the following five facts about orangutans will change your mind:
1. Forget elephants. Orangutans can remember things for years, just like humans.
A recent experiment found that both chimps and orangutans can recall information from an experience they had three years prior. In the experiment, the researchers showed the 11 apes – eight chimps and four orangutans – a chunk of banana on a platform that could only be reached by the use of a long stick. Then the researchers hid two sticks of different lengths – only one of which could reach the banana – while the apes watched. The apes were allowed to find the appropriate stick, take it to the room with the banana and get their reward. They went through this experiment four times, the sticks hidden in a different spot each time. Then, three years later, the researchers performed the experiment again, and 11 out of the 12 apes remembered it. When the apes were placed in the same room with the same researcher and a banana, the apes started scrounging around for the stick within five seconds. The control apes did not search for a tool to get the banana.
2. The orangutan is the only Asian great ape.
There are four great apes: the chimpanzee, gorilla, bonobos and orangutans. The first three of these apes are native to Africa; orangutans are the odd guy out. In the wild, they are only found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. The orangutan isn’t the only Asian ape to have ever existed, however. The biggest ape we know to have ever existed lived in Asia; the Gigantopithecus blacki was about 10 feet tall and lived in what is now China, India and Vietnam about 100,000 years ago.
3. The orangutan is the only ape to live primarily in trees.
Unlike it’s other great ape cousins, orangutans spend most of their lives in trees. Whereas chimps, bonobos, gorillas and even humans live their lives on the ground, orangutans eat, sleep and live in the trees. (Orangutans and chimpanzees do share one similar sleeping habit: they both build incredibly intricate nests to sleep in, but chimps build them on the ground). More than half of their diet consists of fruits, which they find in the trees of Sumatra and Borneo, and they drink water they find collected in tree leaves, as well. Their bodies are especially adapted to living in the forest canopy; that unique swinging motion is called quadrumanous scrambling. In fact, the orangutan is the largest tree-dwelling creature in the world.
4. Orangutans take a really long time to grow up.
Other than humans, primatologists believe that orangutans have the most protracted childhood of all the apes. Since orangutans prefer to live alone rather than in big groups, it’s possible that a long childhood is needed to learn everything they need to, to have a successful life in the forest. Young orangutans learn everything from where to find food and how to acquire and eat it to building a safe and secure nest from their mothers.
5. Both species of orangutans are endangered.
OK, this fact isn’t fun, but it’s true and people should know it. The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered and the Bornean orangutan is endangered, according to the Red List compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are several threats to both species of orangutans, including deforestation, palm oil plantations, the illegal pet trade and hunting. Orangutans may be killed outright for food or squeezed out by destruction of their habitat. It’s a shame that these intelligent, majestic creatures have been put in such peril. Hopefully World Orangutan Day will shine a light on these beautiful “people of the forest.”
Photo Credit: Chi King