[ Pongo pygmaeus ]

Quick Facts

HEIGHT: male: 4.5 feet; female: 3.75 feet

male: 220 to 285 pounds; female: 90 to 110 pounds

WILD DIET: fruit, including mangos, figs, and many more, and also insects, bark, and leaves
ZOO DIET: monkey chow, grapes, bananas, oranges, apples, sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, kale, spinach, romaine, escarole, cucumbers, tomatoes
DISTRIBUTION: only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo; they once lived over much of southeast Asia, but their range and population has been dramatically reduced; the population has dropped 90% in the last century, and orangutans are critically endangered because of habitat destruction
HABITAT: tropical rain forest, and hilly, lowland, and swamp terrain with dense tree growth


The Great Red Ape

Essence of apes
Orangutans are apes. So are gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons, and humans. But monkeys are different fromand smaller thanapes. What makes an ape an ape? Apes don't have a tail, and their arms are longer than their legs. Apes also have a wide chest, while monkeys have a a more barrel shaped torso. Apes have a more upright posture than monkeys and a larger brain and braincase, too.

Solitary, sometimes
Orangutans are the only apes that lead a generally solitary life. Because they are arboreal, orangutans have fewer predators than the other apes. There is security in numbers as they say, but with fewer predators there is less advantage to group living. As large mammals, orangutans need to consume large quantities of food, so traveling in a group would make it difficult for everyone to find enough food. You can however, find many orangutans feeding together peacefully and even socializing when there are large trees full of fruit! In zoos where there is plenty of food, orangutans are extremely social apes.
The strongest social bond among orangutans is between a mother and her offspring. They stay together until the youngster is eight or ten years old, sharing a leafy nest the mother builds high up in a tree.

Orangutans are orange
Orangutans are colorful mammals, but they were not named for their distinctive orange-ish color, as it may sound. Anyway, not all orangutans are orange. Some are reddish-orange and some are maroon. In fact, "orangutan" is the Malay word for "forest people" or "man of the forest."

The ground? Who needs it!
Orangutans rarely go to the ground, but that is okay, because they are designed to live in the trees! On the island of Sumatra, where tigers still roam, orangutans almost never come down from the trees. On Borneo, tigers are extinct, but orangutans venture down only about 5% of the time.

Orangutans are big...but not too big
Orangutans are the largest animals to inhabit the canopy, the top tier of the forest. The idea of a 200-plus pound animal living high above the rain-forest floor is difficult to imagine. With their big body, orangutans cannot jump from branch to branch. Instead they climb very deliberately and steadily through the trees so they will not fall. It's quite a sight! Orangutans use their body weight to sway a tree in the direction they want to go. When they’re close enough to the neighboring tree, they reach out with their long arms, fingers, and feet to grab a sturdy branch or trunk. Then they swing on over.

Fast learners
Orangutans are quick learners, and they use their intelligence to find innovative ways to get food. They use stick tools to dig out honey from beehives and to break open tough fruits. They learn by watching each other, and in a given area they may use specific ways of nest-building and feeding that are different from what orangutans in other areas do.

Sophia's choice
Orangutans learn by exampleand if there is not someone showing them what to do, there can be problems. Brookfield Zoo is home to a female orangutan named Sophia. Sophia's mother did not raise her. So when Sophia became a mom herself, she didn't really know what to do. Keepers trained Sophia to display correct maternal behaviorslike how to carry and nurse an infant. In fact, Sophia was the first orangutan in a zoo ever to be taught these things. Today she is a great mom, and keepers at other zoos now know that an orangutan can be taught by exampleeven if humans are doing the training!

Orangutans at Brookfield Zoo
The orangutans at Tropic World: Asia are part of the Orangutan SSP, a cooperative breeding program between North American zoos. SSPs strive to develop healthy zoo populations of endangered animals through breeding programs.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society