Red Ape Relatives

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As orangutans and humans are 96.4% the same genetically and share 28 distinct physical characteristics, it’s no wonder this magnificent creature’s name means person of the forest in Malay. 

One controversial study even concluded that orangutans – not chimpanzees – are our closest relatives. Some telltale signs of our red ape relatives? Densely enameled molar teeth with level surfaces and a distinct hairline.

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Orangutans are a highly intelligent endangered species and, in the wild, they are only found in Sumatra and Borneo. Recently I traveled to Malaysian Borneo on an ecotour expedition to learn more about these fascinating primates. In Sepilok Forest, we encountered an orangutan named Jennie and her five-year old son Molotus navigating the dense trees:

I spoke with Dr. Marc Ancrenaz, a Sabah, Malaysia-based wildlife biologist and the Director of HUTAN, to learn more about how wild orangutans pass the time. Dr. Ancrenaz and his team have documented over 15,000 hours of direct observation of wild habituated orangutans, and, at present, about 1,000 orangutans live in the Kinabatangan.

According to HUTAN’s data, the orangutans on their 250-acre site spend approximately 14 hours a day resting in a nest, leaving a remaining 10 hours of activity. “Out of this, 40% is spent resting, 40% feeding and 20% in movements and social activities,” says Dr. Ancrenaz. “Their diet consists of 60% fruits, 25% leaves, 10% bark and the rest is other things such as flowers and ants, depending upon seasonal food variation in the forest.”

Orangutans are excellent climbers, aptly suited for life aloft – their enormous arm span can even reach 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip. Learn about how orangutan bridges are helping them navigate fragmented forest, brush up on your orangutan knowledge and visit Borneo to observe these charming primates in the wild.

Photo Credit: Jodi Kendall, taken on a Terra Incognita Ecotour to Borneo.