Dark in the tropical rain forest of Indonesia lies a 5 foot 200 pound orangutan. This creature lies asleep so calm and peaceful that it should not be disturbed. Yet, in the distance, there is the sound of a human powered chain saw destroying this poor animal's home. An orangutan is a close relative of humans, and it is a shame that we are slowly killing them off. Orangutans can only be found in a couple parts of the world; mainly because of their specific environmental needs. They are a beautiful species that posses many physical and behavioral adaptations. Current research is being done to observe their remarkable intelligence, and I share an even more stunning relationship with this incredible species. However, due to humans destroying their forest, the orangutan has become an endangered species.
Orangutans have a very unique scientific classification. Similar to humans, they are from the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the subphylum Vertebrata, the class Mammalia, the order of Primates, and from the family Hominade. The earliest known primates date back to about 70 million years ago. However, the greater apes, such as orangutans and gorillas, branched off from monkeys about 25 million years ago. "Eventually, orangutans separated into the genus Pongo" (Ahrens 2008, 3). Their scientific name became Pongo Orangutans. Its name was derived from the languages of Malay and Indonesia. The orangutan's common name in these two native lands is actually "Orang Hutan." Orang Hutan means person of the forest, and over time we have translated the name into orangutan (Ahrens 2008, 1; Crump 2010, 1).
An orangutan is the world's largest mammal that can live in trees. They are close relatives to gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans. "Orangutans typically have a broad body, a thick neck, two strong arms, two short legs, but no tail" (Crump 2010, 2). Orangutans are covered mostly with long reddish-brown hair; their hair is thin, shaggy, and can vary between brown and a pale red. Adult males can stand 4-5 ft. in height and weigh up to 130-200 lbs. Adult females weigh 90-110 lbs. and can stand on average 3 1/2 ft. in height.
Orangutans have incredible upper body strength that allow them to swing from tree to tree in their environment. Males arms can stretch out to 7ft. (2 meters) in length, which is 2 ft. longer than their standing height of 5 ft. When standing, orangutan's arms nearly touch the ground. Their strong arms and broad shoulders support the weight of their entire body; orangutan's are about seven times stronger than the average human (Ahrens 2008, 2). The orangutans' powerful arm muscles allow them to climb trees more easily and efficiently.
The orangutan has large, noticeable cheek pads located right between their eyes and ears. These cheek pads get larger as the ape continues to age. Cheek pads help the calling sound to be projected more to greater distances- similar to a megaphone (Ahrens 2008, 2.5; Crump 2010, 7). Orangutans will keep and carry large objects in their mouth in order to keep their hands and feet free for traveling. Their powerful jaws are capable of cracking, crushing, and chewing fibrous foods. The orangutans' feet are well adapted for climbing trees; they are able to grasp branches and serve as extra support. Orangutans can hold and eat food using both their hands and feet. This allows them to be multitaskers being capable of placing one foot in their mouth while hanging from a branch (Crump 2010, 2.5). Their fingers and toes are long and curved to help hold and release branches as they move throughout their environment.
Orangutans are the only great ape found in Asia. They are found solely in Indonesia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. These islands are located in Southeast Asia, where they can live in the dense tropical rain forests. "Orangutans either live in the tropical rain forests of Sumatra or the low-lying swamps in Borneo" (Ahrens 2008, 4; Crump 2010, 8). In these regions there is little variance in temperature (at a stable 23 degrees celsius) and length of daylight (about 12 hours). However, in these forests, rainfall varies, and that is a key factor as to the type of food that grows there. Although both islands have a variety mountains, orangutans are rarely seen in elevations that go above 500 meters (Ahrens 2008, 4).
Orangutans enjoy a habitat that is near water and in the lowlands because of their need for fruit. Orangutans live in the treetops of the rain forests. In fact, they spend about 90 percent of their time high in the trees. They rarely go to the ground because of large predators, such as tigers and leopards, that roam the forest floors. Like most animals, an orangutan's habitat is based on which area has the most food and the protection (Ahrens 2008, 4.5).
Orangutans are shy and solitary animals that live alone in large territories (Ahrens 2008, 7). They are far less sociable than other apes and do not live in large groups. This is due to their eating habits; they need a large area in order to get enough food, and too many orangutans in one area might lead to competition and eventually starvation (Crump 2010, 6). Adult females occasionally group together with their young and groom each other. Males are somewhat "loners", and stake out areas of forest that they defend as their own territory, if necessary, fighting other males who intrude.
Orangutans are most active during daylight hours, so they are a diurnal animal . During these precious hours, orangutans have enough time to gather food and an occasional nap. Each evening, orangutans construct a "nest" of leaves and branches high in the tree for the night. Here a mother and her offspring can curl up and sleep together (Crump 2010, 6.5). Males are fatter and weigh a lot more, so they prefer to sleep on the ground. Due to being highly dependent on trees and the tropical forest, orangutans can only live in a few areas.
Orangutans are omnivores, which means their diet consists of both plants and animals. However, they are mostly herbivorous; due to their high caloric need, over 50% of their diet is composed of fruits (Ahrens 2008, 6). Although fruit makes up most of an orangutan's diet, they still require other nutrients as a part of their daily intake. They receive a mixture of sugars and fats from fruit, carbohydrates from leaves, and protein from nuts. "Other foods orangutans eat include flowers, sap, seeds, shoots, tree bark, insects such as termites and ants, and on rare occasions meat from small mammals" (Crump 2010, 4).
Orangutans spend about six hours eating or gathering food during the day. A common fruit for most orangutans is a durian, which is a fruit that is covered with sharp
spines.They use their strong jaws and teeth to open durians. Orangutans get most of their water from their herbivorous diet. When thirsty, however, they can find a hole in a tree where water has accumulated from past rainstorms (Crump 2010, 4). When the food supply in a particular area is plentiful, an orangutan may remain in one place for a long period of time to feast.
Orangutans move through the forest by swinging from tree to tree. They use their own body weight to swing back and forth on a branch. Orangutans are very cautious and will not let go of a branch until they are sure that they are able to grab on to the next tree. Orangutans move slowly and carefully through the trees, using all four limbs. Upper body strength is vital for orangutans to move in the forest. Their strong muscles in their shoulders support their entire body weight. This method that orangutans use in order to swing from tree to tree is known as brachiating (Crump 2010, 7.5).
Orangutans can walk using their legs just like humans, but they rarely do. However, orangutans cannot fly nor swim. When orangutans walk on land, they are most likely to fist walk. This means that they will walk on all fours- using their fists and feet (Ahrens 2008, 2.5). Orangutans' feet are much like ours; they have five long toes. However, unlike humans, orangutans' posses a big toe that is opposable. This means that their big toe on their feet can rotate similar to the thumbs on humans. In other words, an orangutan has four hands. This adaptation enables orangutans to be more suited for grasping and climbing trees.
As males move through the forest they make plenty of noises to ensure that they stay out of each others way. Adult male orangutans have adapted to make long, roaring calls; they sound similar to squeaks and whines. These loud calls are called "long calls." The sound can carry through the forest for up to .6 miles (1 km). Orangutans' throat sac enables them to make their varietyof sounds (Crump 2010, 7). Long Calls are made up of a series of sounds. This call helps males claim their territory, attract females, and keep out other intruding male orangutans.
The lifespan of an orangutan is about 50 years in captivity and about 30-45 years in the wild. This is due to predators, such as leopards and crocodiles, and diseases. Females are attracted to solid mature males with cheek pads. During mating, females listen for the sound of the "sexy" long call. Male and female orangutans stay together for only a few days; the male will leave once the female becomes pregnant. The orangutan pair will travel together and share food during this short period of mating. Mating occurs year-round, and pregnancy for the female orangutan lasts 8 to 9 months (Crump 2010, 9).
Females are mature and capable of reproducing as soon as the age of seven. They give birth to a single offspring every three to six years and twins are rare (Ahrens 2008, 5). A baby weighs no more than five pounds and is completely dependent on its mother for the first two years. The baby attaches itself to its mother that way it can travel with her and sleep in her nest at night. The baby becomes independent at age three, but will continue to stay with its mother until the next offspring is born. A female usually only raises two to three young in a lifetime. The long relationship between a mother and her offspring lasts about seven to eight years (Ahrens 2008, 5).
Orangutans posses many other
adaptations due to their environment. Their flexibility enables them to
groom almost every part of their body. Orangutans have forward facing
eyes that provide them with binocular vision. Binocular vision enables
them to view the forest in great distances and depth. This is extremely
useful for maneuvering in the forest. Orangutans rely on their keen
eyesight and color vision. Color vision assists orangutans in detecting ripe fruits. The reddish—orange coloration is a trait that is well adapted for a
forest environment. This color helps orangutans blend in with the forest when they are high up in the trees. Another adaptation
shown by orangutans is
the replacement of sharp claws by flattened nails. This adaptation is needed for the sensitive finger tips of the phalanges. Orangutans also have the power to separate the control of all their
fingers (Ahrens 2008, 2.5).
Orangutans do not hibernate nor do they shut down their metabolism. Instead, they have found ways to live with the environment. Orangutans living in
the wild have been seen using sticks to extract termites from trees and to knock down high fruit. They also use large leaves as umbrellas to keep themselves from getting wet and as cups
to assist them in drinking water (Crump 2010, 5). Orangutans also make leaf gloves to protect themselves when eating thorny fruits. "In captivity orangutans have been observed making and using tools, learning language skills such as sign language, and solving problems using
different parts of their brain" (Ahrens 2008, 2.5).
Orangutans pose no threat to man, yet man is their only enemy. "Deforestation has put
orangutans in more often contact with humans, therefore they are more
susceptible to being killed" (Kareiva 2011, 2). Their natural habitat is being destroyed to provide land and timber for the increasing human population. Female orangutans are being slaughtered so that their babies can be captured for zoos; the babies sometimes die in captivity. Since their breeding rate is so slow, they have been classified as an endangered species. Humans murder as many as 1,970 to 3,100 orangutans annually. Deforestation is mostly responsible for the declines in orangutan
populations (Kareiva 2011, 1).
Current research shows that orangutans in the wild are still able to adapt to an environment today. A study was done to see if an orangutan was able to figure out how to raise the water level to grasp a peanut. Orangutans were forced to use a greater part of their brain. Orangutans came up with a
solution without seeing the water. This allowed researchers to conclude that
they had to think at a higher level (Mendes 2007, 6 ). Another study was done to see how orangutans cope with weak branches, considering their heavy body. They found out that orangutans use unique strategies to cross gaps between branches. "Orangutans were able to use elasticity in branches to sway from tree to tree. "In order to maintain balance, orangutans used specific body postures and the variety of branches above and beneath them" (Thorpe 2009, 4). Orangutans are also able to lower the energy they use as they move through the forest. They use tree swaying from branches to reduce the energy needed from getting one place to another (Thorpe 2007, 4).
There are also new studies being constructed on how well developed the orangutan brain is. One study showed how often an orangutan uses pantomime or body gestures to give a command. It was found that an orangutan does use some sort of body language to communicate. The
orangutan pantomiming shows that orangutans can speak and communicate in a variety of different ways (Russon 2010, 4). Another study showed how and when an orangutan uses facial mimicry, such as a human smile. Playmate orangutans mimicked each other in less than one second. This shows how humans and other primates both use facial mimicry. Orangutans responding with facial mimicry showed that they were able to communicate with others similar to humans (Ross 2008, 2).
The orangutan has a special history with me. When I was younger I went to the zoo; as I was searching through the stuff animal collection at the gift shop, I came across an orangutan. I adored this creature so much that I could not let it stay in that cruel place. No more than a week after the purchase, I lost the orangutan at Knott's Berry Farm amusement park. As a child when you have a new toy, you want to take it everywhere. On the ride Ghost Rider, the poor stuffed animal flew off the ride. Considering that was a huge drop, the orangutan was still okay. For a moment that was the only orangutan that could fly.
Orangutans are clearly closer relatives to humans than we think. Orangutans branched off from primates into the genus pongo.They live solely in the tropical forest of Indonesia, but we are destroying their homes. As a result we are killing off the entire species. Their habitat depends on the food and protection that is provided. Orangutans have a similar body shape to humans, but their arms are obviously a lot longer. They posses many physical and behavioral adaptations due to living in the Indonesian tropical rain forest. Current research has shown that orangutans are a much smarter species than we expected and I have shown that orangutans cannot fly. It would be a shame if this precious species became extinct. You do not need to be a hero to save the orangutans, just stop intruding their homes and we will all be together again. In life we all need to make important decisions, and it is our generation's decision if we want beautiful creatures, such as orangutans, to live or die.