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International Orangutan Day - Safari Ltd®

International Orangutan Day

August 19th is International Orangutan Day! Let’s take some time to appreciate this great ape on its special day by learning a little bit about these red-haired primates.

What’s an Orangutan?

Orangutans are large apes living in Malaysia and Indonesia. They can stand about four and a half feet tall and weigh up to 165 pounds. Like many apes, their arms are very long, and can span up to six and a half feet across!

There are three species of orangutan. For a long time, only two were recognized – the Bornean orangutan and the Sumatran orangutan – but a third was described in 2017. The Tapanuli orangutan is isolated to the South Tapanuli region of Sumatra, and can be differentiated from the other two by its skull and teeth.

Though there are subtle differences between the species, all orangutans share the same basic features. Their fur is long and shaggy, and reddish orange, and their skin is gray. They have no tails, like all apes, and males have very large and distinctive cheek flaps that make their faces look quite large.


Where Does the Word “Orangutan” Come From?

You’ve probably heard the word “orangutan” so many times you don’t even think twice about it. But it’s kind of an odd word, isn’t it? What does it mean? It actually comes from the languages of Malaysia and Indonesia, from the word orang (which means “person”) and hutan (which means “forest”). So an orangutan is a “person of the forest”.


How Smart are Orangutans?

Orangutans are some of the smartest primates – other than humans, that is. They have been known to exhibit problem solving skills and tool usage. Different populations of orangutans exhibit differences in behavior as well, which is a sign that they may have their own unique cultures. Some orangutans have even been taught to communicate using sign language.

Are Orangutans Endangered?

Unfortunately, all species of orangutan are critically endangered. There are currently believed to be just over 60,000 orangutans in the wild. That may seem like a lot, but their numbers have fallen dramatically over the past several decades.

Orangutans face many threats, including habitat destruction. The forests they call home are being cut down to make room for palm oil farms and new roads. Orangutans are also illegally hunted, sometimes to be sold as pets. Orangutan bones are also used in traditional medicines.

Many organizations are fighting to save the orangutans. These include the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, and the Orangutan Land Trust, which is working with palm oil farmers to help them co-exist with orangutans. Through efforts like these, and raising awareness of the orangutan’s need for protection, we can make sure these amazing, intelligent apes continue to have a place on this planet.


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