Orangutans Are Like Birds

Orangutans are like birds. Not in the literal sense. They don’t lay eggs, have beaks, or feathers. However they do make nests, and not once a season to make babies. They make a different nest every night. Now that sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it? I am too lazy to make my bed everyday let alone make a new bed every day. Well scientists at the University of Manchester have been monitoring orangutans in the wild for the last year and discovered orangutans put a lot of thought and effort into their nightly beds.

“We found that the orangutans chose strong, rigid tree branches for the structural parts of the nests that supported their weight, and weaker, more flexible branches for the nest’s linings, suggesting that the apes’ choice of branch for different parts of the nests was dictated by the branches’ diameter and rigidity,” said Dr Ennos, based in the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences. He also said, “[The] branches chosen for the nests’ structural framework were fractured differently from those chosen for the lining: whereas structural branches were broken halfway across, leaving them attached, branches used for lining were completely severed, suggesting that orangutans might use knowledge of the different ways in which branches break to build strong and comfortable nests.”

So not only do the orangutans make new beds every night, they also selectively choose each branch and calculate the best position for it. Furthermore, the smaller branches are woven to make soft places to lie down. These great apes are smarter than were ever thought before, and why they always amaze me.

Orangutans carefully select branches to use in their nests, just like birds do. Who knows? Orangutans may start laying eggs and sprouting wings, but that may be further down the evolutionary line.Image

Credit to Rhett A. Butler and mongobay.com


Manchester University (2012, April 17). Orangutans smarter than previously thought: Orangutan nest building highly sophisticated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 26, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/04/120417080346.htm


Sumatran Orangutans Could Be Gone Sooner than Later

An unfortunate realization has occurred: Sumatran orangutans could be gone by the end of 2012. A fire set by palm oil plantations in the Tripa park has killed 90+ orangutans. A THIRD of the population in the Tripa Park. There are only a few thousand of these great apes left and everyone of them is needed. The plantations were given the go ahead by the court to clear  their remaining land to grow more trees, but the plantation is in the largest habitat for orangutans. Many activists in Indonesia are trying to fight the clearing of more land from this habitat, but who knows if they will win. To read more check out the below articles.



Why Does Everyone Like Palm Oil So Much?

The African oil palm is capable of producing 2.4-4000 lbs/acre of palm oil. One tree capable of producing up to 1500 fruits and can produce fruit for 25-30 years. Oil palms produce more palm oil per acre than any other vegetable oil plant, and is therefore able to be harvested sustainably (Nellemann, C. 2007). The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is trying to contact companies to switch to sustainable palm oil sources, instead of plantations that produce crude palm oil (RSPO. 2007). Crude palm oil comes from plantations that continually use new land to plant oil palm trees (King, T. 2011). Many companies have made the switch, but many have not. In order to be certified by the RSPO, companies have to meet a list of criteria. Some criterion includes providing benefits to workers, using the same land to plant trees and harvest crops, using environmentally friendly pest controls, and not overusing the amount of groundwater (RSPO. 2007).

Because it’s cheap and contains no trans fat, palm oil is increasingly used in many grocery items. The items that use palm oil include baked goods, cereal, juices, pet foods, laundry detergent, and make up. Some brands that use sustainable palm oil are Kellogg, Pepsi Co. McDonalds, Walmart Store Inc., Loreal, All, and Friskies cat food (Palm Oil Shopping Guide. 2012). Palm oil is listed as different names in the ingredients section, such as vegetable oil, palm kernel, palm oil kernel, palmitate, and palmate (King, T. 2011).

Because palm oil is essential to the economy of Indonesia and Malaysia, banning palm oil all together is not the answer to preserving orangutan habitats. Buying products with sustainable palm oil, or none, is the answer. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has produced a shopping list, which is continually updated, for the consumer to take to the grocery store (Palm Oil Shopping Guide. 2012).


  • King, T. (2011). Palm Oil. Say No to Palm Oil. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/palm-oil.php
  • Nellemann, C., Miles, L., Kaltenborn, B. P., Virtue, M., and Ahlenius, H. (Eds). (2007). The last stand of the orangutan – State of emergency: Illegal logging, fire and palm oil in Indonesia’s national parks. United Nations Environment. Programme, GRID-Arendal, Norway,      Retrieved 11 March, 2012 from http://www.grida.no/files/publications/orangutan-full.pdf.
  • Palm Oil Shopping Guide: Current Better Choices. (2012). Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from cmzoo.org/docs/palmOilShoppingGuide.pdf

Why Are Orangutans so Vulnerable?

Genetic diversity is essential for the survival of any species. The more variation in the DNA, the more adaptable the species is to changes in the environment. If their diet and lifestyle are versatile, then the animal can move to different habitats and settle down if their main habitat is destroyed. Greater genetic diversity also means a stronger immune system and therefore decreases the chances of illnesses or any genetic diseases. Large populations tend to have a greater number of genes than smaller populations, but it’s not absolute. This makes it harder to conserve endangered animals. Once the population decreases, the genetic diversity lessens. Then if the populations increase, the genetic diversity will stay the same, which still puts the population at risk of extinction. It is therefore important to prevent population loss to begin with (Pascal, M. 2010).

There are a couple of characteristics of orangutans that makes them susceptible to extinction. Orangutans are endemic to Indonesia and Malaysia, which means there are no populations elsewhere. Since these two countries are islands, orangutans are also not able to spread out to other countries. Their genetic variability isn’t as great as a genus that has many species spread out over a lot of countries. Their weight also puts them at risk. As older trees are chopped down for lumber or palm oil plantations, younger trees are left behind. The weaker branches cannot hold the large, adult male. The males are forced to walk along the ground, which puts them at risk of predation (Levine, S. 2000).

Another aspect that put orangutans at risk is their low reproduction rates. Females only have one infant at a time, and only every eight to ten years. When populations are wiped out, it takes many years for the numbers to bounce back. These mothers also need a lot of land to raise their young. Even though female orangutans share home ranges, male orangutans are very protective of their territory. Great apes need a lot of land to survive. As the rainforests are chopped down, orangutans are pushed together and the number of fights increases (Caldecott, J., & Miles, L. (2005).

Besides the orangutans, the trees that make up their diet is at risk. As land is cleared for palm oil plantations, the vegetation populations are severely reduced. In place of these trees, African oil palm is planted. As a result, the biodiversity of the vegetation is diminishing. Although the orangutans can utilize African oil palm in their diet, the lands are heavily protected and intruding orangutans are generally shot (Nellemann, C. 2007).

Caldecott, J., & Miles, L. (2005). World Atlas of Great Apes and Their Conservation. London:   University of California Press.

Levine, S. (2000). The Orangutan. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc.

Nellemann, C., Miles, L., Kaltenborn, B. P., Virtue, M., and Ahlenius, H. (Eds). (2007). The last stand of the orangutan – State of emergency: Illegal logging, fire and palm oil in Indonesia’s national parks. United Nations Environment. Programme, GRID-Arendal, Norway,      Retrieved 11 March, 2012 from http://www.grida.no/files/publications/orangutan-full.pdf.

Pascal, M., Guyader, H. & Simberloff, D. (2010). Biological invasions and the conservation of biodiversity. Revue Scientifique et Technique, 29 (2), 387-403.

All About Orangutans

Orangutans are the only great ape located in Asia. Indonesia and Malaysia have the only two species of orangutans: Sumatran and Bornean. There are three subspecies of the Bornean orangutan. Borneo is sectioned off into three areas by a large mountain range: east, northwest, and southwest. Each of these areas has one subspecie.

Bornean Orangutan: Pongo pygamaeus

Sumatran Orangutan: Pongo abelli

Physical Description:

Males and females differ greatly in size. Adult, dominant males can reach up to 200 lbs., while adult females weigh an average of 100 lbs. Adult males are roughly 4 feet tall and females can grow up to 3 feet tall. Unlike females, adult males have two phases: flanged and unflanged. Unflanged males close to the size of adult females and have the same characteristics. When the process is complete, males have cheek pads, a larger throat sac, and have almost doubled in size. It is theorized that the cheek pads help the male’s reproductive call to be louder to attract more females.




These species are mainly solitary, traveling in packs of one or two, and spends most of their time in trees. They are the largest arboreal animals in the world. Every night, orangutans make new beds out of branches and leaves in different places within their home range.

Females reach sexual maturity between 14 and 16 years of age. The gestation period lasts for 9 months. After the infant is born, it will not leave the mother for at least eight years. The mother will not have another infant for another 8-10 years. During their lifetime, a female may have 3-4 offspring.


Orangutans are frugivores. Fruits make up about half of their diet and the other half consists of bark, leaves, insects, and the occasional small mammal. Over 400 species of fruit have been documented in their diet, such as plums and figs. One of their favorite fruit is the durian. This fruit has a hard shell and spikes. The orangutan has to be meticulous and patient in order to get the meat inside.

Orangutans are known as the “botanists of the world.” They are able to remember the life cycle of many plants and the location of the trees. Besides this, orangutans, in a sense, plant the seeds from the fruits they ingest. The seeds are distributed by the orangutans has they travel through their home range.  As a result, the tree populations are able to spread further than these could on its own.

Conservation Threats on Orangutans

It is predicted that by 2022, 98% of the rainforests in Indonesia will be destroyed. The main ecosystem on Indonesia is rainforest and in these rainforests are a lot of endemic species. Out of all the species in Sumatra, 9% of the native species are endemic and 10% of the native mammals are endemic. In Borneo, 30% of Borneo’s native species population is endemic and 48% of the native mammals are endemic. If all the rainforests are destroyed then these species are going down with them. Figure 1 gives a visual of the amount destroyed and how many rainforests are expected to be destroyed by 2020 (Nellemann, C. 2007).


As the rainforests are torn down, the orangutan population continues to decline. In the last 60 years, 50% of the Bornean population has been wiped out and continues to do so. For Sumatran orangutans, 80% of population has decreased in the last 75 years and continues to decline Figure 2 shows the distribution of the orangutan population between 1930 and 2004. A lot of the populations are a long the shores, which, as can be seen from Figure 1, is where the rainforests are being torn down (Nellemann, C. 2007).


Deforestation is occurring because of palm oil plantations, illegal logging, and fires. Palm oil plantations are more likely to be built on recently cleared rainforest land, including dipterocarp and peat swamp forests. The soil is moist and full of nutrients, which makes it a desirable place to grow the African oil palm. When trees are planted, it takes six years to mature. Once the oil palms start to produce fruit, new land is purchased to plant more trees so there can be a continual harvest. Palm oil is a popular product because it’s cheap, versatile, contains no trans fat, and can be used to produce biodiesel fuel.

A popular spot for plantations are peat swamp forests. The peat swamp soil contains a lot of CO2. The way these forests are cleared is by setting the trees on fire. When the trees and soil are burned, a lot of carbon dioxide is released into the air. Ironically, the production of palm oil emits more greenhouse gases then what the biodiesel fuel made from palm oil will save in replacement of gasoline.

One result of building on old orangutan habitat is the increase in human-orangutan interactions. Lost and confused orangutans have come unto the plantations looking for their home or searching for food. Large males are intimidating and cause fear in the workers. Most of the time these orangutans are shot.

Illegal logging is another major cause of orangutan habitat destruction. Logging is a major part of the Indonesian economy. The international demand for timber is ever active and the impoverished country is willing to supply it. In 2003, 60% of the timber exported from Indonesia was done so legally. That leaves 30% of the exported timber from unlawful operations. There is a lot of illegal logging going unnoticed by the government, and some of the timber is coming from the national parks. The national parks are underemployed and do not have the resources to enforce the law (Nellemann, C. 2007).


Nellemann, C., Miles, L., Kaltenborn, B. P., Virtue, M., and Ahlenius, H. (Eds). (2007). The last stand of the orangutan – State of emergency: Illegal logging, fire and palm oil in Indonesia’s national parks. United Nations Environment. Programme, GRID-Arendal, Norway, Retrieved 11 March, 2012 from http://www.grida.no/files/publications/orangutan-full.pdf.