Meet the World's Orangutans

Orangutans are a group of apes which make up the genus Pongo. 3 Species of orangutan are currently recognized. These are the Sumatran, Bornean and Tapanuli orangutans. They are the only species of ape found in Asia the rest come from Africa.

The tapanuli orangutan was only listed as a species in 2017 and is listed as the world's most endangered ape. As few as 800 of them are thought to remain in three areas of Sumatra.

Orangutans are recognizable for the long orange hair covering their body. Males and females have markedly different appearances. Males are significantly larger and develop cheek pouches or flanges. These are thought to help them with attracting a mate.

They are the largest tree dwelling primate and spend much of their time high in the trees. The Bornean orangutan is the most likely species to be seen on the ground. Nests are built each night in the trees to sleep in.

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Unlike other ape species the orangutan is primarily solitary with males and females only coming together to mate.

Increasingly they are threatened by habitat destruction along with capture for the pet trade.

The name orangutan comes from a Malaysian word meaning 'person of the forest.'

Orangutans are incredibly smart and have been recorded using tools such as sticks to remove honey and insects from crevices.

As an ape the orangutan lacks a tail.

Infants spend up to eight years with their mother learning how to live in the forest. As such they have the longest interbirth interval of any mammal at up to eight years. This means most females will only produce four to five infants in their life. This means populations recover very slowly after any disturbance.

bornean orangutan

A Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)



Orangutans are omnivores. Their highly varied diet may include as many as 400 different foods. This is predominantly made up of ripe fruit but invertebrates and on rare occasions meat are also consumed. They seem to retain knowledge on the fruiting cycles of trees and visit them when the fruit will be ripe.

They obtain their drinking water from crevices in trees.

These animals are important in spreading seeds through the forest.


Asia is the native home of the orangutan. Here they can be found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia. Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans can be found on the island of Sumatra while Borneo is home to the Bornean orangutans.

They make their home in forests and swamps in Indonesia.

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sumatran orangutan

A Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

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Orangutan Species - A full list of the 3 species

  • Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
  • Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)
  • Tapanuli Orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis)
bornean orangutan

A Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)

Eric Kilby from Somerville, MA, USA / CC BY-SA

Species Profiles - A detailed fact file on some of the world's orangutan species


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San Diego Zoo Kids. 2021. Orangutan. [online] Available at: <https://kids.sandiegozoo.org/animals/orangutan> [Accessed 5 February 2021].

Galdikas, B., 2021. Orangutan - Behaviour. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/animal/orangutan/Behaviour> [Accessed 5 February 2021].

Orangutan Conservancy. 2021. Orangutan Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.orangutan.com/orangutans/orangutan-facts/> [Accessed 5 February 2021].

World Wildlife Fund. 2021. Orangutan | Species | WWF. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/orangutan> [Accessed 5 February 2021].

Animals.sandiegozoo.org. 2021. Orangutan | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <https://animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/orangutan> [Accessed 5 February 2021].

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