Orangutan: Man of the Forest
At 130 million years old, the Borneo rainforest is the oldest rainforest in the world. The rainforest is home to 15,000 species of flowering plants, 3,000 species of trees, 221 species of terrestrial mammals, and 420 species of birds. The most famous Borneo rainforest resident is the orangutan, translated as “man of the forest.”
All About these Great Apes
Orangutans are a type of great ape (along with gorillas and chimpanzees) and are only found in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Genetically, orangutans diverged from the rest of the great apes species approximately 15-19 million years ago. The two Asian species diverged from each other about 400,000 year ago, dividing into the Sumatran orangutan and the Bornean orangutan.
Orangutans are known for their reddish-brown hair and live mainly in trees, probably to avoid their biggest predators: tigers and crocodiles. At the jungle camp, my guide said that a python could also take down an orangutan. Usually solitary, orangutans live to be about 30 years old, and eat a vegetarian diet, mainly fruit, bark and honey. (Although they sometimes eat inserts and birds eggs.)
Most of their time is spent feeding, followed by a late morning siesta, traveling about midday, and then making their nightly nest. One of the most intelligent primates, orangutans use sophisticated tools when constructing their sleeping nests each day. The nests contain mattresses (made from braiding leaves), pillows, blankets, bunk beds, and roofs.
My first stop in Borneo was Sepilok, an orangutan rehabilitation center near Sandankan. At the park, you can stroll through the small museum, watch the video and wait on the viewing platform for feeding time. This occurs twice a day and usually only 2-3 orangutans arrive for the free food. These are mainly mothers who want to feed their babies and orangutans that are transitioning back into the wild.
The day I went I saw several orangutans come to the platform, swinging in from the surrounding trees. While I expected to see a few more, it is the closest you can get to orangutans since those in the wild are usually pretty far away. There was also a funny monkey there that came to steal their food and kept getting a palm swipe for his efforts.
My second and third orangutan sightings were at the jungle camp, while on river safari. These were seen in the distance, but with a camera zoom lens or a good pair of binoculars, you could get a gander. Mainly you just saw their silhouette between the tree limbs as they climbed about. But even these glimpses were pretty exciting!
Both species of orangutans are endangered (the Sumatran species is critically endangered). In the past 60 years, the Borneo population has decreased by 50%, mainly because of loss of habitation due to deforestation. There is an estimated 45-69,000 orangutan left in the wild in Borneo.
These organizations working to rebuild Borneo’s orangutan population:
- Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation – working toward Bornean orangutan conservation with community participation. http://www.orangutan.or.id/
- The Orangutan Foundation – a UK-based charity that works to save Asia’s endangered great apes by protecting their habitats, working with local communities and promoting research and education. http://www.orangutan.org.uk/
- The Orangutan Appeal UK – a UK-based charity dedicated to the rehabilitation and preservation of orangutans and the conservation of their habitat. http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/-
This entry was posted on Monday, June 18th, 2012 and is filed under Asia Pacific.