The man of the jungle

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2008, 12:00am

Quick Facts

Common name: Orang-utan, also spelled orangutan

Scientific name: Pongo pygmaeus

Native home: lowland rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo

Estimated numbers: about 50,000 in Borneo and 7,000 in Sumatra

Size: males are about 1.3 metres tall and weigh about 130 kilograms; females are half the height and weigh about 37kg

Orang-utans spend almost all of their time in trees, making them the largest arboreal animals in the world. At night they build a nest by twisting branches into a circle and padding it with leaves. They forage for food during the day. Although their favourite food is ripe fruit, these primates also eat leaves, shoots, insects and even meat.

Scientists report seeing these great apes eat more than 400 different types of food!

True or false?

1. Wild orang-utans live in the mountains.

2. Male orang-utans are twice as tall as females.

3. An orang-utan's favourite food is ripe fruit.

Tool Makers!

Fill in the gaps:

animals, humans, apes, children

Orang-utans are members of the Hominidae family, also known as great 4. _______________. This group includes chimpanzees, gorillas, and 5._______________.

Orang-utans share more than 97 per cent of their DNA with us. They are also considered the most intelligent species on Earth - after us!

Until the 1960s we thought we were the only 6. _______________ to use tools. But scientists discovered other great apes make them, too.

Wild orang-utans turn leaves into rain hats, make roofs for their nests during the rainy season, and teach their 7. _______________ these skills, too.


Find synonyms for these expressions:

reduced by 50 per cent, farming, selling illegally

In the past 60 years, Bornean orang-utan numbers have halved. In the past 75 years, the Sumatran orang-utan has declined by more than 80 per cent.

Logging, turning rainforest into palm oil plantations and slash and burn agriculture are to blame for this situation.

The other major threat to our great ape cousins is the illegal pet trade. Baby orang-utans are sold as luxury pets. Poachers kill the mother first so she can't protect her baby.

Although orang-utan trafficking has been illegal since 1931, about 1,000 are killed each year by poachers hunting for babies.

Orang-utans are now registered as critically endangered.

Home Life

Underline the correct antonym (opposite):

meet up with, immature, death

Male orang-utans avoid each other. Some live alone but others choose to stay with their favourite female.

Older females live with their children until they can look after themselves. The children leave home when they are eight or nine years old.

Young females live with several males. When the girls are ready to mate, the boys often fight each other. Wild orang-utans give birth for the first time when they are about 15 years old. Those born in zoos mature much earlier - when they are about seven years old. Females give birth about once every eight years. After a pregnancy of eight months, orang-utan mums usually give birth to 1.5kg babies. Most have one baby but some have twins.

Orang-utans can live between 50 and 60 years in the wild and in captivity.

fab fact!

Although most orang-utans look alike, DNA tests show there are significant differences between groups. Scientists now recognise the Sumatran orang-utan (Pongo abelii) is different from the Bornean orang-utan (Pongo pygmaeus). In addition, DNA tests have revealed four sub-species of Bornean orang-utan. In years to come, there may be subspecies identified in Sumatra, too.

fab fact!

The orang-utan is nicknamed 'man of the forest' because its name comes from the Indonesian words 'organ' meaning 'person' and 'hutan' meaning 'forest'.

fab fact!

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is home to three Bornean orang-utans: Datu aged 29, Merdeka (23) and Raba (11). Born in zoos, these great apes love bananas which can be found in their natural homes. They also like apples, cheese and yoghurt.


1. F; 2. T; 3. T; 4. apes; 5. humans; 6. animals; 7. children;

Synonyms: halve, agriculture, trafficking

Antonyms: avoid, mature, birth