Dean M. Chriss
Forest Boss, Orangutan, Malaysia

Forest Boss, Orangutan, Malaysia

(Click image to enlarge)

In English we call them orangutan. In Malay they are "orang utan", which literally means "person of the forest". With a 96.4% genetic match to humans, the similarities between us and these intelligent apes are more than the stuff of myth and legend. They are our closest relative and the second largest ape in the world. Orangutans are found only in Malaysia and Indonesia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Fully developed adult male orangutans can weigh up to 300 pounds and have large cheek-pads called flanges that can take 20 years to grow. Females prefer males with flanges and males who have them are known to father more offspring. Orangutans have the lowest reproduction rate of any mammal on earth. Their gestation period is about nine months long. Mothers nurse their infants for four to five years and stay in their mother's nest for seven to eight years, so females give birth every seven to nine years. A female can have at most five offspring during her lifetime, and many have fewer.

Sights like this are rare and will soon vanish from the earth. Half of all wild orangutans were killed in just the last 16 years. More than 5000 per year are killed by palm oil plantations alone. Forests where orangutans live and find all their food are cut down to plant this cash crop. Palm oil is widely used in food products so consumers should avoid those that contain palm oil. Other threats to orangutans include logging, farming, mining, and poaching for the exotic pet trade. When poached, mothers are always killed. If the baby survives the mother's fall from a tree, the baby is taken by the poachers. Orangutans currently exist in the few remote and isolated patches of native jungle that remain on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, in the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.