About Orangutans: The Most Intelligent Primate

About Orangutans

Orangutans are the most intelligent primates worldwide. They have been studied at great length by scientists and conservationists revealing some amazing facts about the species. Here we take a look at facts surrounding this amazing animal.


Orangutans are found exclusively in Asia namely in Malaysia and Indonesia with the Borneo and Sumatran Rainforests being where they are spotted most often. This has led to two types of orangutan name, the Borneo Orangutan and the Sumatran Orangutan being the premier species of this primate.

The word orangutan is Malaysian in origin and means Person of the Forest. Orangutans spend most of their time in the trees making them mostly arboreal unlike other great apes that split their time between the trees and the ground.

Physical Characteristics

Visually orangutans look very unusual due to their long orange coloured hair, while most other primates are brown or black. This makes the orangutan really stand out as they sit comfortably in the trees. Many people describe the orangutan as having four hands rather than two hands and two feet. This makes it easy for them to swing through the treetops where they are most comfortable. Walking on the ground is however more difficult for them due to their long gangly arms and legs.

Orangutans are solitary creatures and do not socialise only coming together to mate. Male orangutans are larger than females with males weighing up to one hundred and twenty kilogrammes, while females weigh a mere forty five kilogrammes. Very young males resemble adult females more as they don't have prominent features such as the cheek pads that adult males portray, while older males grow a beard and moustache!

Orangutans have thirty two teeth which is the same number as humans, while the male has longer canine teeth that they use to threaten other animals and for fighting. Orangutans will purse their lips and make a smacking sound if they want onlookers to retreat.

Males call out to females in order to attract them, while this call is also a warning to rivals to keep clear. Males can make up to fifteen different vocal sounds. Humans share 96.4% of our genetic makeup with the orangutan! Orangutans in the wild can live up to forty five years old.

Mental Attributes

Orangutans are born with the capability to think and reason things out making it as close as it can be to humans. Orangutans make tools in order to help them forage for food in the treetops which is very clever! An example of this is when an orangutan is trying to prize insects from a crack in a tree. He will use a stick to poke in the hole in order to release the food.

The orangutan also learns to recognise hundreds of different fruits and food stuffs that grow in the forest memorising what time of year they grow and when it is safe to eat them. This means that the orangutan won't waste valuable time and energy searching for food.

What Do Orangutans Eat?

The main diet of the orangutan is fruit with the Durian being their favourite choice. The Durian is a large spiky fruit that smells disgusting and apparently taste similar to custard with garlic added! This sounds terrible but orangutans love them!

Other foods the orangutan will eat include tree bark, flowers, honey, insects and leaves. When it comes to water, orangutans will chew leaves in order to make them like sponges that will soak up water for them to drink.

Do Orangutans Sleep in the Trees?

Yes orangutans do sleep in the trees in nests that they renew every day. Orangutans love life in the trees and rarely spend time on the ground below. Male orangutans spend time alone in the trees, while females and babies will sleep together in one nest. The female usually has one baby at a time who she will dedicate her life to until the baby reaches seven or eight years of age.

Females and their Babies

Female orangutans are not ready to reproduce until they reach their early teens, while the gestation period for a pregnant orangutan is nine months just as it is with humans. Orangutan offspring rely on their mothers for up to eight years and are the most dependant of animals when it comes to staying under the guidance of their mothers. This is probably due to the fact that there is so much for young orangutans to learn and take in if they are to survive into adulthood.

Orangutan babies cling to their mothers' stomach for at least one year, while they nurse until they are six years old with young males staying close to their mothers for a few more years following that. Females however stay close to their mothers until they reach their teens as they watch and learn how to look after their young so as to go on to become able mothers themselves.

Females reproduce once every eight years which is the longest time between births of any mammal. This means that an average female orangutan will only produce five babies in her lifetime.

Interesting Facts

  • Orangutans in captivity have been known to live up to fifty years of age
  • Baby orangutans cry when they are hungry, smile at their mothers and make a whimpering sound when hurt
  • Orangutan's arms have a reach of up to eight feet
  • A typical legend surrounding these creatures is that they can actually speak but choose not to
  • Orangutans sometimes add a roof made from leaves to their nests
  • Orangutans make umbrellas from leaves in order to shade them from the sun or protect them from the rain
  • Orangutans swat mosquitos with branches when they irritate them
  • Orangutans are mainly active during daylight hours and sleep at night just like humans

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