Forest man – the orangutan

In the Malay language, ‘orangutan’ roughly translate to ‘man of the forest’

Classified as one of the four great apes of the world – the others being the gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo – the orangutan is truly a fascinating animal. Born with the ability to reason and think for themselves, orangutans are one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing over 90% of the same DNA with us! Two species of orangutan exist: the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) and the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus).

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What big arms you have!

The orangutan, who boasts a unique reddish-brown hair colour, is the largest arboreal (tree-living) mammal in the world. While the other great apes spend some time on the ground, the orangutan makes his home in the trees by building nests out of leaves and branches. Orangutans live, sleep and forage for food high above the ground in the tree branches. They need little else, as they can find their diet of leaves, bark, insects and fruit there. When it rains, they use large leaves as umbrellas to keep themselves dry. They also get their drinking water from leaves after the frequent rains of their habitat. When they struggle to get water, these smart animals chew leaves to create a sponge, which they use to soak up water in tree cavities. The orangutan is well adapted for this lifestyle. When a male stretches out his arms, they can measure up to 2m from fingertip to fingertip. This is longer than his standing height, and when orangutans stand their hands can almost touch the ground. Both their hands and feet have opposable thumbs, making their feet almost like an extra pair of hands. A number of orangutans do not have nails on their big toes. They are extremely agile and strong, enabling them to hang upside-down from branches for a long time to eat the leaves and fruit. When they do walk on the ground, they walk on all fours on their palms or fists. They are slow and awkward on the ground though, making them vulnerable, which is why they prefer to stick to the trees.

The full article appears in the January 2017 issue of Animaltalk.

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