Orangutans are the largest arboreal ape.

Once widespread throughout the forests of Asia, orangutans are now found on just two islands, Sumatra and Borneo. There are three genetically distinct species: the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii); the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus); and the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).

The orangutan is one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing 96.4% of our DNA. Indigenous peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia call this ape "Orang Hutan" which literally translates as "Person of the Forest".

Orangutans are unique in many ways. They are the only Great Ape in Southeast Asia, and the only Great Ape (other than humans) found outside Africa. They are the only 'red' ape, and the only strictly arboreal ape, meaning that they spend their lives in the forest canopy, even building nests in the trees in which to sleep.

The 800 remaining Tapanuli orangutans are threatened by a hydroelectric dam, which we are involved in protesting. See for more information. 



Critically Endangered

Species Info

  • 1931
    Legislation passed which prohibits the owning, killing or capture of Orangutans
  • 1973 - 1975
    Study of Orangutan's ability to learn sign language conducted
  • 1983 - 1998
    90% of Kutai National Park (habitat area) lost to massive fires
  • 1986
    Orangutans listed as Endangered
  • 1996
    Divided into 2 species: Bornean Orangutan & Sumatran Orangutan
  • 1996
    Sophisticated tool manufacture & use reported
  • 2000
    Sumatran species listed as Critically Endangered
    Bornean species listed as Endangered
  • 2003
    Researchers document evidence suggesting cultural diffusion exists amongst Orangutan groups
  • 2011
    Sumatran Orangutan genome sequenced
  • 2012
    Deforestation of Tripa for Palm Oil plantations seriously threatens habitat area


Orangutan Habitation Map

They are found only in Sumatra and Borneo. Orangutans are in grave danger of extinction because their rainforest habitat is being converted for human use - the biggest threat is permanent agriculture in the form of palm oil plantations and, more recently, illegal logging within protected areas.

Learn more about the Orangutan's habitat by watching Earth's Green Heart - Asia.


Palm Oil

The orangutans' forest home is being felled and turned into oil palm plantations on a massive scale, logging continues even within national parks, and road networks divide the remaining forests into isolated fragments.

To find out more, visit the Palm Oil Working Group page.


Indonesia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, and Sumatra has lost almost half of its forests in the last 25 years.

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