Bornean Orangutan

ZOO LOCATION: Primate World

Lifespan: 35-50 years

Wild Diet: Fruits, leaves, shoots and some small animals

Zoo Diet: Fruits, vegetables, primate chow, vitamins and milk

Predators: none

SSP: yes

IUCN Status: Endangered

Habitat/Range: Tropical rainforests in Borneo

Characteristics: Males may be 4 1/2 ft. tall and weigh up to 220 lbs.; females are shorter and weigh up to 110 lbs. Males have prominent cheek pads, but both sexes have throat pouches. Physical characteristics include small eyes and ears, and long curved fingers and toes on elongated hands and feet. Arm length is long; they may have an 8-foot span in some males. Bornean orangutans have long, dark hair on their shoulders, up to 12 in. in length, exaggerated cheek pads and balding, slightly pointed heads.

Behavior: Orangutans are solitary much of the time. They walk upright through branches using their flexible feet, grasping the branches above their head with their hands. Sleeping platforms are constructed in the trees by weaving and bending branches together. Feeding is done early in the morning and late in the day. Orangutan shoulder muscles are well developed as a result of the intense use of arms for support. Males hum and howl during courtship; both sexes do vocalize but not much.

Scientists debate primate intelligence. Many features in our brains that support how we think, act, speak and do math are present in ape brains. Did you know that orangutans are great tool users? They use various substances for tools including twigs and branches, fabric and some recent studies have shown that they even use water as a problem solving tool. Orangutans will fashion their sticks to make them smaller or sharper to get the object they want.

Other studies show that orangutans play "charades" to communicate with their keepers. With trusting relationships and positive reinforcement, zookeepers teach orangutans certain behaviors that assist in checking their mental and physical health. Orangutans will even trade items with keepers for treats! Zookeepers provide "enrichment" for orangutans to exercise their mind and body. Items such as puzzle feeders, fabrics, novelty food and scents are given on a random schedule to ensure interest.

Reproduction: Gestation is between 245-270 days. A single young is born weighing 3-4 lbs. at birth. Infants remain with their mothers until age five or six. Males take no specific part in the raising of their offspring. Females reach maturity at age 10 and males at age 15.

Conservation: Orangutans need our help! Orangutans live only on Borneo and Sumatra where loss of forest habitat is the number one threat to their survival. Many forests are being cut down to grow palm oil plants for use in many everyday products. In 1997 an area the size of New Jersey burned in Indonesia, much of which was orangutan habitat. Large reserves and strict wildlife protection is needed to keep orangutans from extinction.

What can you do to help? Learn more about palm oil and the crisis that's threatening the survival of orangutans. Your daily actions can make a difference in their future. Learn more at