Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Greentumble writer Daniel Blechynden.
Orangutans are some of the most endangered species on the planet. Inhabiting the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in southeast Asia, there are two species of orangutan: The Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan. They live for around 45 years, and will usually only produce three to five offspring in their lifetime. Because of this, they are extremely vulnerable to habitat disturbances and human interference, and have become critically endangered over the past few decades. Read on to discover ten facts about orangutans:
1. Orangutan populations have been in sharp decline over the past few decades. It is estimated that there were around 230,000 orangutans a century ago, but now there is only around 50,000 (40,000-45,000 Bornean and 7,500 Sumatran).
2. Illegal and unsustainable logging is one of the orangutan’s greatest threats. Currently, more than 50% of the remaining populations are under threat from habitat loss. In fact, the Sumatran orangutan is currently classified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Scientists claim that they could be the first Great Ape species to become extinct in the wild.
3. Orangutans pay a role in the tribal culture of indigenous Indonesians and Malaysians. They are known as “orang hutan,” which literally translates to “person of the forest”. The tribal people have always had a great respect for the orangutan, and don’t hunt or kill them due to the belief that they are simply people hiding in the trees, avoiding going to work or becoming a slave.
4. Orangutans are extremely clever beings with the ability to learn and remember things. They use a range of tools such as termite-fishing sticks, sponges to soak up water, and umbrellas made of large leaves to shelter from the rain. Who ever said that animals weren’t clever?
5. One of the greatest child-mother bonds in nature is found in orangutan families. Females give birth just once every eight years, and suckle their babies for around six years. A baby orangutan may stay with its mother until it is well into its teens. Hunting and human activities can break this bond, and mothers will visibly mourn for lost children.
6. In the past decade, orangutan number have fallen by around 30%. At the current rate of population decline, one of the most intelligent species on the planet will be lost within our lifetime.
7. Farmers sometimes shoot orangutans if they stray too close to crops. Due to deforestation and illegal logging, food sources are becoming rarer for the orangutan, causing them to forage in increasingly dangerous places.
8. The illegal exotic animal trade is a major contributor to orangutan population decline. The high price that they bring on the black market leads to huge amounts of poaching. It is estimated that for every orangutan baby sold, six to eight others die due to poor handling, trauma at being separated from their mother, and malnutrition. The majority of orangutans on the black market are captured when their mothers are shot on palm oil plantations.
9. Since orangutans are very family oriented and intelligent, they usually suffer a great deal when kept in captivity. They can suffer from depression and other mental illness due to the absence of a mothering figure. Additionally, since they are so similar to humans, they are able to transmit and receive many diseases to and from humans – a fact which often makes their lives miserable.
10. In Sumatra, over 50% of the forest has been cleared in the past 25 years for palm oil plantations and other purposes. Not only does this reduce the habitat available to the orangutan, but the forest which remains is heavily fragmented by roads, farms, and plantations. This creates small, isolated subpopulations within the larger Sumatran orangutan population.
Daniel Blechynden is a contributing writer at Greentumble. He grew up on a small farm on the south coast of Western Australia, and as such, has always had a close connection with nature, especially the ocean. You can find Daniel here.
Header photo courtesy of Vera Kratochvil by Public Domain License