Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Orangutans: The Wild Gingers of Borneo

Zegrahm Contributor|July 17, 2017|Blog Post

Redheads have a reputation for being deeply sensitive and extremely loyal. They sport the rarest hair color in the world—which, by the way, never turns gray, but rather straight to white. In fact, a research study published in 2011 shows that the genome of redheads differs in a number of ways from their non-auburn counterparts.

Meet the orangutan, the “ginger” of the wild.

As guests on our Borneo expedition will discover, orangutans are one of our closest relatives, sharing 97 percent of their DNA sequence with humans (and not solely those with red hair). They have opposable thumbs (and, like a few humans at least, prehensile feet). Their name actually comes from the Malay words orang (“person”) and utan, a derivation of hutan or “forest”—thus, a “person of the forest.”

Of the four species of great apes, orangutans are the only ones found in Asia, making their home high in the canopy of the peat swamp forests on Borneo and the northern parts of Sumatra. Contrary to popular thought, their reddish coloring actually helps them blend in to their lush surroundings; sunlight reflected off the muddy water gives the forest an orangish tint, camouflaging them from predators below.

While other great apes spend time in trees, orangutans are the only ones to be arboreal—indeed, they are the largest mammal on earth to be so, sleeping and nesting as high as 120 feet off the forest ground. Their long limbs are incredibly strong and adept at moving through the thick canopy, allowing them to hang upside down to nibble fruit and new leaves in the upper habitat. While its agile hands make the orangutan incredibly adept at climbing, it is rather awkward walking on the ground, using its palms instead of knuckles like the gorilla.

Another distinction: While the other ape species are known to be social creatures, orangutans are rather solitary in nature. Males are generally off on their own, while females are found mainly with their offspring. Perhaps that has to do with the latter’s extremely long dependency on its mother, nursing until around the age of six—the longest of any animal. On average, orangutans live around 40 years in the wild, and females, which reach puberty around age 15, only give birth every eight years or so, making it extremely difficult to recover from population disturbances such as those caused by mass deforestation and illegal hunting.

Orangutans are classified as critically endangered. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that only 105,000 remain in Borneo.


Encounter these amazing creatures up close during our 16-day Borneo expedition departing August 8, 2018.


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