Forest people with heart and mind



The orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) along with chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas belong to the family of great apes. The genetic information of the orangutans is identical to 97 percent of humans. Thus, the orangutan is one of our closest relatives.


It is mainly native to the lowland rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, but also lives in isolated swamps and secondary forests. One makes a distinction between two species, the Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and three other sub-species of the Borneo orangutans.

Characterized by long, shaggy, reddish-brown hair, the out-stretched arms of an orangutan measure up to 2 meters. A full grown male can be up to 1.40 metres tall and weighs about 100 kilos, a female usually weighs between 35 and 55 kilos.


For males the large fleshy cheek flaps and throat pouches are characteristic. Their "Long Call" can be heard from up to 1 km away.


An orangutan eats primarily fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, insects, bird eggs and honey. As an important seed disperser in the forest ecosystem, he makes a crucial contribution to the preservation of species diversity. Orangutans are thus an umbrella species for the protection of the tropical rainforest.


Orangutans are the largest tree-living primates spending most of their time looking for food and resting. Every day they walk 1-2 miles through the rainforest at night and build nests out of twigs and branches.



Orangutans are highly intelligent and have exceptional memory performance which enables them to remember where to find fruit, returning to these places when the fruit is ripe enough. They use twigs to to get termites from trees and leaves as as drinking vessels and umbrellas. Emotions such as anger, fear and happiness are also part of their experience as well as excitement and even depression.


Monkey researcher Benjamin Beck: "If you put a screwdriver into the cage of a gorilla, a chimpanzee or an orangutan, the gorilla is terrified. He sits anxiously in the corner and eventually tries to eat it. The chimpanzee immediately pounces on the toy, uses it to get up to all sorts of mischief – and finally throws it away. The orangutan pretends not to be interested, let's the screwdriver 'disappear' – and in the night uses it to break the cage lock. "


Orangutans have a long and slow life cycle. The life expectancy of a wild orangutan is 35 to 40 years. A juvenile only becomes independent of its mother at around 6-9 years and is sexually mature at 14.


A female orangutan has on average three young in her lifetime. This low birth rate makes an orangutan population extremely vulnerable to disruption.