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Orang-utans

Bornean orang-utan
Scientific name:
Bornean orang-utan:Pongo pygmaeus
Sumatran orang-utan: Pongo abelii
Number remaining:
Bornean orang-utan: 45,000-69,000
Sumatran orang-utan: around 7,300
Extinction risk:
Bornean orang-utan: endangered
Sumatran orang-utan: critically endangered

About orang-utans

There are two species of orang-utan – the Bornean and the Sumatran. Orang-utans used to roam as far north as southern China, and as far south as the Indonesian island of Java. Today they’re only found on two islands – Sumatra and Borneo.

Orang-utans spend a lot of time alone but have loose relationships with other orang-utans in their community. They spend most of their lives in trees, where their long, strong arms help them swing through the forest canopy and hang from branches as they eat their favorite food – fruit.

Orang-utan numbers have declined by around 50% in the last 60 years, mainly because of loss of habitat.

Find out how you can help save orang-utans

Five facts about orang-utans

  • Orang-utan means ‘man of the forest’ in the Malay language.
  • 60% of an orang-utan’s diet is fruit. The rest is young leaves, shoots, insects, soil, tree bark and sometimes even eggs and small vertebrates.
  • An orang-utan’s arms are longer than its legs, reaching its ankles when it stands.
  • Infant orang-utanss stay with their mothers for 7-11 years. An infant rides on its mother's body and sleeps in her nest until they are able to survive on their own.
  • Orang-utans can live up to 50 years old in the wild.

Why orang-utans matter

Pongo pygmaeus Bornean orang-utan Close-up of the face of a juvenile Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus), Malaysia.

Orang-utans are known as gardeners of the forest – playing a vital role in seed dispersal, especially for large seeds that are not spread by smaller animals.
Without the orang-utan these larger seeds would either be dispersed over shorter distances, dispersed less often, or not dispersed at all. This would affect the natural structure and functioning of the forest ecosystem – which is important to people and other animals.

The people of Borneo and Sumatra depend on the orang-utan’s forest for food, water, income and defence. For example in the 2004 tsunami, coastal orang-utan habitat in Sumatra protected the communities that lay behind it by absorbing the power of the waves. Communities not sheltered this way faced devastation – losing property and lives.

The orang-utan’s habitat is also home to other threatened animals – like the Sumatran tiger, clouded leopard, Asian elephant and Sumatran rhino. So by conserving the orang-utan’s habitat, we’re also benefiting other key species.
 


Threats to orang-utans

Agriculture and palm oil

A large number of wild orang-utans live outside of protected areas. Over the past 20 years, more than 80% of the orang-utan’s habitat in Borneo and Sumatra has been lost to agricultural conversion – mainly for the production of palm oil, a product found in more than half of packaged products in our supermarkets.

Peat swamp forests that are home to high densities of orang-utans are often targeted for oil palm plantations. 

Habitat loss

Road development, illegal timber harvesting and unsustainable logging, mining and human encroachment also result in habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. 

Illegal pet trade

Young orang-utans up to the age of seven are sought after for the illegal pet trade. When infants are targeted, usually the mother is killed. Illegal wildlife trade

Bornean orang-utan

How WWF is helping protect orang-utans

 We work on many fronts - conserving orang-utan habitat, promoting more sustainable forestry and agricultural practices, and tackling the illegal wildlife trade.

Protecting the "Heart of Borneo"

We’re working with Borneo’s governments to conserve an area of forest known as the Heart of Borneo, through a network of protected and sustainably-managed areas where hunting and illegal logging are prohibited.

Orang-utan with young

Restoring wildlife corridors

We’re also working to identify and restore wildlife corridors between protected areas. This will reconnect previously fragmented orang-utan habitat so there will be large blocks of interconnected forests.  

Promoting sustainable palm oil

In 2004, we helped set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – RSPO. This promotes the production and use of sustainable palm oil, which ensures that income is filtered down to local people and important forests that are deemed to be of ‘high conservation value’ aren’t cut down to make way for oil palm plantations.  

We work with industries and individuals to encourage increased demand and supply of certified sustainable palm oil. So look out for the ‘CSPO’ logo on products in your supermarket.

Reducing the demand for the illegal pet trade

We’re working with TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network) to improve enforcement of wildlife laws that ban the trade in live orang-utans. And we’re helping to reduce the demand for the illegal pet trade.


Palm oil plantation

Success story: sustainable palm oil production increases by 630%

The global production of certified sustainable palm oil has increased from 1.3 million tonnes in 2009 to 8.2 million tonnes in 2013. And more work is being done to reduce the production of unsustainable palm oil that threatens the orang-utan’s forest home.

European companies are leading the way in using sustainable palm oil – around 80% of the palm oil they use is sustainable.

Retailers using 100% sustainable palm oil include Boots, Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s.


How you can help protect orang-utans