Orangutans FAQ

(frequently asked questions)

Orangutans are large, red-haired animals with four hands. They are members of a group called the Great Apes. Unlike monkeys, they have no tail. The word orangutan translates as "Person of the Forest" in Malay and Bahasa Indonesian. Orangutans are very similar to humans. They share 96.4% of our genes. The Great Apes are humankind's closest living relatives.


Q: Where do orangutans live?
Sumatra and Borneo (in Kalimantan, Sabah and Sarawak). These are the only places in the world where orangutans live. Orangutans live mainly in the trees, only occasionally coming to the ground.

Q: Where do orangutans sleep?
In their nests. Usually they make a new one every evening. Orangutans also build nests in the daytime to rest and play in. A mother with young children might build 2 or 3 nests a day. They are woven in the branch of a tree and are usually very well made, like a big basket. Often they are more than a metre across. Baby orangutans are born in the nests.

Q: What do orangutans eat?
Their main food is fruit (c.60%), young leaves (c.25%), flowers and bark (c.10%) insects, mainly ants, termites, and crickets (c.5%) and the occasional egg. Essentially they are vegetarian and do not eat meat or fish.

Q: Are orangutans nocturnal?
No, they are active during daylight hours and go to bed at sunset - around 7p.m.

Q: How long can orangutans live?
In the wild an average lifespan is 45-50 years. They have been known to live longer - up to 65 years - in captivity.

Q: What noise does an orangutan make?
They "squeak" to communicate. Infants cry like a baby, and young ones scream and throw tantrums. Adult male orangutans inflate their throat pouch to produce the 'long call' a deep resounding noise that sounds like "grumph" and is similar to a lion's roar. It can be heard for up to a kilometre in the forest.

Q: How big are orangutans?
An infant weighs around half a kilogram at birth. Adult females can grow to around 1.3 metres in height and weigh around 45kg. Males can reach 1.8 metres in height and can weigh over 120kg.

Q: What are the differences between male and female orangutans?
Adult males are much bigger than females (diomorphism). As well as the size, the male face changes dramatically as he gets older. The strongest male (sexually dominant) grows wide fleshy cheek pads and a throat pouch under his chin. Both the males and the females grow a beard and a moustache which begins after about 10 years of age and gets longer as they get older.

Q: How many babies are born at a time?
Usually only one infant. Only very rarely are twins born. Females are pregnant the same length of time as humans - nearly 9 months.

Q: Do they live in families?
No, as adults they spend most of their time on their own. Babies and infants stay together with their mother. Young orangutans play together but the mothers do not have much contact with each other. The father does not live with the family.

Q: When does the infant leave its mother?
Orangutan infants stay with their mother until they are about 6 or 7 years old. They receive breast milk for the first 3 years of their life but also learn to eat other foods. The mother teaches them everything about survival in the forest and they have a very close relationship.

Q: How old are orangutans before they reach maturity?
Females can start having babies between 9 and 12 years of age. Male orangutans become mature between the ages of 9 and 15 years. After that he will grow his beard, moustache, and then the cheek pads grow. The cheek pads and throat pouch may not appear until he is older than 20 years and might not happen at all.

Q: Are orangutans aggressive?
No, usually they are friendly, peaceful animals. They will only become aggressive to defend themselves. If an adult male meets another adult male, they will try to avoid a fight by giving threat displays and staring at each other. If this doesn't make one of them go away then they fight.

Q: Are they dangerous?
They could be as they are up to 6 times stronger than humans, have 4 hands and can bite hard. Sometimes in captivity they become aggressive and dangerous usually as a result of how they are treated.

Q: Do orangutans have any predators?
Yes, but only a few: PRIMARILY MAN! Before, the clouded leopard and Sumatran tigers were their natural predatorsbut man has killed most of them off too!

Q: Why are they endangered?
Firstly, we are destroying their forests. Secondly, they reproduce very slowly. A female will only give birth every 6-7 years in the wild.

Q: What is a rehabilitation centre?
Rehabilitation centres have been set up to accommodate confiscated or donated pet orangutans taken from the wild. Their aim is to guide and teach the apes to return to life in the forest. Many orangutans have already been successfully returned.