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Critter Guide
Mammals: Orangutan


With their bold orange coloring and distinctive cheek pads, orangutans make an unforgettable impression. Shy and gentle, these great apes are extremely intelligent and have certain cultural behaviors that are passed down from generation to generation. Males, at 300 pounds, are twice the size of females. Males need this size advantage to compete against other males. Orangutans are also clever escape artists.

Where do they live?:

Orangutans were once found all over Southeast Asia into Southern China, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Today, orangutans are critically endangered and found only in the tropical rainforests of Borneo (Malaysia and Indonesia) and Sumatra (Indonesia). Only 15,000 to 25,000 orangutans are left in the wild. They are endangered due to loss of habitat through logging, farming, gold mining, and prey to poachers for the pet trade. Some experts believe wild orangutans could become extinct in 10 years since Indonesia has lost 80 percent of its original forests and continues to lose 6 million acres a year.

What do they eat?:

Orangutans are fruit eaters, and will also eat leaves, flowers, bark, and insects. They will also eat soil -- the minerals help neutralize the acids and toxic tannins in their largely vegetarian diet.

Social Environment:

Orangutans are diurnal and spend most of their life high in the canopy, swinging from limb to limb, foraging for food. Because their food sources are so scattered, orangutans live a semi-solitary life. Mothers and their young travel together (for eight years), as do groups of same-age females. The males, however, live apart and behave aggressively toward one another when they come together as they battle for mates.

Critter Fact:

Orangutans use branches as tools to forage for insects and to reach other branches. They also utilize branches as back-scratchers. Other orangutans use leaves as napkins, wiping food away after a meal. Leaves also make good gloves when handling prickly fruits.

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Did You Know?

Orangutans' arms are one-and-a-half times longer than their legs, reaching nearly 8 feet from the fingertip of one to the other. They are very powerful, allowing the orangutan to swing from branch to branch, navigating its way through its forest home.

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