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The Sumatran Orangutan

Orangutan in Malay language means ‘Person of the forest’ (orang = 'person' and utan derived from hutan = ‘forest’ )

Orangutans are the only great ape found in Asia. They were once widespread across Southeast Asia, but now are only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.


They are two separate species; the Bornean Orangutan Pongo pygmaceus, which also has 3 sub species and the Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelli. At the end of 2017, a new species of orangutan was discovered in Northern Sumatra and identified as Pongo tapanuliensis.


All species are classified as Critically Endangered, with both islands suffering from huge Orangutan population declines over the last few decades. The newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan with only 800 individuals, is the rarest great ape in the world!

critically end.png


Critically Endangered


Pongo abelii


Sumatran Orangutan 13,846

Tapanuli Orangutan: 800


Tropical and sub-tropical forest

Orangutans are the most intelligent of the great apes and one of our closest relatives, sharing 97% of our DNA. Because of the on-going destruction of their habitat,  Orangutans are threatened with extinction in the wild.
However, forests surrounding Bukit Lawang still offer chances to see ex-captive and wild Orangutans living in their natural habitat. 

Orangutan Characteristics

Bornean and Sumatran Orangutans differ slightly in appearance and behaviour. Both have red – orange hair but the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) has paler hair, more ‘golden’ in colour and is also shorter than the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaceus).


The species is​ sexually dimorphic, meaning the two sexes of the same species exhibit different characteristics beyond the differences in their sexual organs. Males are approximately twice the size of than females, weighing 50-90kg and females 30-50kg.


​There are two types of males; flanged and unflanged. Flanged males have prominent cheek pads called 'flanges'. The Sumatran orangutan flanges are flat and extend out from the face. Both male species have a throat sac that is used to produce a 'long call' for attracting females which can be transmitted for several kilometers. Unflanged males look like adult females and can still reproduce, however they can change to a flanged male for reasons that are not fully understood​.

Orangutans have long arms, one and a half times the length of their legs, flexible shoulder joints and have opposable thumbs and big toes enabling them to grasp branches and manipulate objects.

​​The lifespan of the Orangutan is quite long, up to 50 years, with males generally living longer. They have the slowest life histories of all mammals, with roughly the same gestation as a human of 8.5 months. They have the longest inter-birth rate of any mammal, meaning they only give birth approximately every 8 years.  


The baby orangutan is completely dependant on its mother for the first 2 years of its life and will stay with her for up to 8 years. Females normally become sexually active at about 12 years, usually having their first off-spring at 15 years.​

One Kind Planet gives plenty more information and more facts about the Sumatra Orangutan. 

HEIGHT: males - about 1.5m; females - about 1.2m

WEIGHT: males - 93 to 130 kg; females – 48 to 55 kg

LIFE SPAN: 50 years or more

GESTATION: about 8.5 months

No. OF YOUNG: usually 1, very rarely 2

DIET: Mainly fruit, but leaves, flowers, ants, bark

Life in the Trees

Orangutans are the largest and most arboreal ape in the world, spending most of their lives in the trees. Because of this they are specialist of primary forests. Although they have large bodies, they are able to move through forest gracefully, if not a little slow. Using their long arms to grasp a branch and then grasping with their foot, they can be suspended four-limbed between two branches, swaying, before they are able to get enough motion to cross over.

They spend most of their daytime foraging for food which is found in the treetops. Sumatra Orangutans are primarily frugivores, which makes up as much as 90% of their diet. It is a high calorie food and more nutritious for feeding their large bodies. Preferred fruits include wild figs, from the large fig trees which are abundant in Sumatra. This also means that wild orangutans rarely venture to the floor. However, this is slightly different to the ex-catpive orangutans in Bukit Lawang which regularly come to the ground in search of dropped fruit peelings.  


Every night orangutans build a new nest to sleep in, by breaking branches and folding the leaves together. This can be several meters above the ground. Sometimes they will makes nests midday for taking a nap or when it is raining, using a large leaf as an umbrella. 

Orangutan Jacky
Wild orangutan

Why They Matter

They are a 'flagship' species for the conservation of the tropical forests in Sumatra. Ensuring their survival will help save the rainforests along with all the myriad of other wildlife


Orangutans are frugivores and play an important role in seed disperal. 

If they were to disappear then many tree species would as well


Orangutans rely on the forest for food, as do 4 million people for water, food and natural medicines   


The Sumatran forest is also home to many other spectacular species - Elephant, Tiger, Rhino, Hornbills, Sunbears


Orangutan habitat is vital for the fight against climate change. Provides oxygen from its trees and  carbon storage in its peat swamp forests


Orangutan habitats are important ecosytems, providing flood barriers and prevents soil erosion  

Orangutan Threats


Orangutans have lost over 80% of their habitat in the last 20 years, with Sumatran Oangutans now restricted to the North of Sumatra only.


The expansion of oil palm plantations has seen large areas of rainforest being cut down and cleared, causing orangutans populations to be fragmented into several populations. However, a large population still remains in the Gunung Leuser National Park, but there are many smaller populations that live outside this protected area. 


The main threats to these populations are; deforestation, small-scale mono-culture agriculture, illegal hunting and killing. As a an area becomes human-dominated orangutans come into conflict with humans. With less forest and food, orangutans go in search of fruits often coming onto agricultural land or private owned agfro-forest. If Orangutans frequently come and eat cash crop fruits, like Durian, local landowners see them as pests and often shoot them. 


Eco-tourism is one way that can provide revenue for local communities and therefore help help protect the Orangutan habitat.


 Singleton, I & A.Dadi R & R. Taken from WWF 

How can you help?

Responsible Jungle Trekking

We offer responsible jungle trekking in the Gunung Leuser National Park to see ex-captive orangutans living freely and wild orangutans in the jungle. By joining our responsbile jungle treks you will be following the national parks guidelines. This keeps you safe but also protects the orangutans from catching any infections or diseases from us, as we do not feed orangutans and keep a distance of 10m. These treks also limit the amount of impact we have on the environment, as we try leave no trace by taking all our rubbish out, not leaving fruit peelings and reduce the amount of plastic we use during treks.



Eco - Treks


As part of our Eco Sustainble Policy, we offer unique Eco-treks in other areas of the Gunung Leuser National Park and bordering forests. Here wild orangutan populations live and other threatened flora and fauna. By joining these treks, you are directly supporting local people and communities. It gives local people the incentive to preserve the enviroment so you can see these amazing places and thus helping to protect them and the wildlife.

Explore More

By exploring different areas of the Gunung Leuser National Park in other locations to see orangutans, you are helping to take the pressure of tourism in Bukit Lawang. Trekking or taking a tour to these places helps demonstrate that the forest and area has value. Hopefully, its ecomonic incentive will encourage local government to protect these areas.

Buy a Tree

For just 100,000 rp you can buy a tree. This can be planted in unprotected orangutan habitat or we can give to local people where there is already human-animal conflict. 

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