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Eight fascinating and heartbreaking facts about Borneo's orangutans

Eight fascinating and heartbreaking facts about Borneo's orangutans

Our closest living relatives. Glance into an Orangutan's eyes and the chances are you'll sense something quite human in their gaze. The babies make your heart melt, innocently clinging onto their mother's back, and the flanged males with their strange looking protruding cheek pads are quite a sight.

If you're extremely lucky, you may see these monkeys swinging from the treetops supposedly without a care in the world, but this species currently face a bleak future if we don't change our ways and act now to help them recover. The Borneo Orangutan is listed as critically endangered, and, no surprise here, it's mainly down to humans.

Borneo's Orangutans

Borneo is one of the only places you can catch a glimpse of these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. The Bornean orangutan is native to the island of Borneo, and they have slightly different features to the Sumatran orangutan such as being a little darker in colour and having broader faces. One of the best places to see them is Tanjung Puting National Park which provides a home for over 5000 of these wonderful creatures.

Borneo's Orangutan walking with people in Tanjung Putting National Park

So, what are the main problems that these poor orangutans are facing? Well, mostly deforestation for logging and agriculture. And perhaps the most awful and unnecessary threat, illegal hunting. Plus, forest fires can wreak havoc, one in Kalimantan killed nearly 8000 orangutans between 1997 and 1998.

To pay tribute to these awesome apes we'd like to share some facts that help to tell you a little about them and the struggles they face.

Here are eight facts about Borneo's Orangutans that are both interesting and heartbreaking....

  1. Orangutans spend their entire lives in the trees

    Borneo's Orangutans - threat to their survival

    Yet, the main threat to their survival? Deforestation. It's so frustrating. A lot of forest gets churned up to produce products like palm oil and for land conversion and mining. Orangutans spend the majority of their days swinging from tree to tree, they use their body weight to help bend branches and move through the forest canopy.

    Borneo's Orangutan swinging in trees

    They've got super strong hands and feet that are, well, quite hand like which enable them to maintain a firm grip on the branches. the Bornean orangutan is about 1-1.5 m tall (3.5-4.5 ft.) with an arm span as long as 2.5 m (8 ft.) (Animal Fact Guide).

    What's so heartbreaking is, their home (a.k.a the trees) is disappearing at an alarming rate, in fact, their habitat has been reduced by at least 55% over the past 20 years (WWF)

  2. The Bornean orangutan is listed as endangered

    Borneo's Orangutan is listed as endengered

    Currently, their numbers are approximately 41,000 (World Wildlife). They are on the WWF critically endangered list which means they have been categorised as facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. This would be absolutely devastating. For more information on other animals on the list, check out the WWF website here.

  3. Mothers stay with their young for up to 8 years

    Borneo's Orangutan mother and baby

    Yup, those fluffy bundles of cuteness don't leave their mother's side for a very long time. Longer than any other great ape in fact. Sadly, young orangutans are in demand for the illegal pet trade, and their mothers often unnecessarily get killed whilst poachers are trying to get hold of their little ones.

    Borneo's Orangutan mother and baby

    Orangutan babies get sold for several hundreds of dollars and studies have shown that between 200-500 Borneo Orangutans make their way into the pet trade every year (WWF). Frustratingly, taking young orangutans from their mothers has an enormous impact because they have a low reproductive rate, and females don't reproduce until they get to 15 years of age. Plus, they only give birth every eight years.

  4. Males are largely solitary

    Borneo's Orangutan male calling

    The male orangutans that reside in Borneo are actually very solitary, so much so that they only socialise when it comes to mating. They'll interact with females during the mating process, but aside from that, they prefer to embark on a solo lifestyle in the treetops. When they want to mate, they send out a loud long call. It's so loud that it can sometimes be heard up to 2 miles away. (Animal Fact Guide).

  5. Borneo's Orangutans create nests way up in the tree tops

    Borneo's Orangutan makes nest in tree top

    And this is where they sleep! Can you imagine just falling asleep metres up a tree? For them it's probably the safest and comfiest place to be. They've got pretty good and using bent branches to create makeshift hammock type nests to rest their tired feet (and arms!).

  6. Their diet consists of over 400 types of food

    Borneo's Orangutan with banana

    Which is another reason why the forests are so important to them, because it's where they find all the yummy snacks and nutrients they need - without them they starve. 400 types of food is certainly an expansive menu to choose from, it sounds like they make the most of the resources they've got at their fingertips. Most of their diet (about 60%) is made up of fruit, and they also eat lots of shoots, invertebrates and leaves.

  7. Orangutan means "person of the forest"

    Borneo's Orangutan - person of the forest

    In the native languages of Indonesia and Malaysia. OK not specific to the Bornean orangutan but an interesting fact nonetheless, it seems like a perfectly fitting name. Especially seeing as how genetically close these apes are to us humans.

  8. The adult male Bornean orangutan occurs in two forms, flanged or unflanged

    Borneo's Orangutan male in flanged form

    Say what? You're probably wondering what heck "flanged" means. Well, if you look at pictures of some of the males you'll notice that many of them have very odd looking faces. That will be the 'flanged' look. These are basically cheek pads on both sides of their face, and for some reason the females prefer to mate with the flanged males (there are two types of males, flanged and unflanged).

    These strange cheek pads tend to occur when males reach their 20's, and clearly that's when they have more success with the ladies.

Final thoughts - how can you help Borneo's orangutans?

Borneo's Orangutan baby

"Hunted, sold, pushed out of their forest homes-the plight of one of man's closest living relatives is of our making and yet we can help them recover." Dr. Barney Long Asian Species Expert.

Now you know some of the hard-hitting facts, perhaps you could be persuaded to do your bit to help these critically endangered apes. There are lots of ways you can help. First and foremost, avoid buying products that contain palm oil and tropical plywood and try to cut down how much paper you use. That's a good start. But if you want to go further, you can work on conservation volunteering projects, adopt an orangutan, or support the WWF.

Kiri Nowak

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Kiri Nowak

Kiri Nowak

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A travelling enthusiast from a young age, I dream about the destinations I visit long before I get...

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