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About Orangutans

The orangutan is Asia's only great ape and is only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra as three co-generic species, Pongo pygmaeus, Pongo abelii, and Pongo tapanuliensis.

About Orangutans

The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape and is only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra as three co-generic species, Pongo pygmaeus, Pongo abelii, and Pongo tapanuliensis.

The majority of orangutans (90%) are situated in Indonesia (Indonesian Borneo-Kalimantan and Sumatra), while the remaining 10% can be found in Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia.

As one of our closest living relatives orangutans are highly intelligent, sentient beings. They are an iconic species of Indonesia and an important umbrella species. By protecting orangutans in their natural habitat, a whole plethora of other flora and fauna are also protected. Protecting their forest habitat is as important to humans as much as it is to wildlife.

Today, Bornean, Sumatran and Tapanuli orangutans are threatened by extinction due to habitat loss and hunting. It is estimated that the Bornean orangutan population has decreased by more than 80% within the last three generations.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies all three species of orangutan as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. All three species are also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Orangutans are legally protected by national and international law, however laws and regulations alone are clearly insufficient to actively protect this charismatic species. Orangutan conservation requires comprehensive and integrated efforts by all stakeholders, both in the field and in the political arena, to ensure its success.

In 2007, the first National Strategy and Action Plan for Orangutan Conservation 2007 – 2017 was signed by the Ministry of Forestry and announced by the Indonesian President at the Bali Climate Change Conference, December 2007. This plan is due to be reviewed and updated in the near future.

All orangutan conservation in Indonesia – including activities that we do at BOS Foundation – are based on this Action Plan.

Orangutan facts

Common Name
Scientific Name
Population Estimates
Bornean Orangutan Pongo pygmaeus 57,350 Critically Endangered
Sumatran Orangutan Pongo abelii 14,470 Critically Endangered
Tapanuli Orangutan Pongo tapanuliensis < 800 Critically Endangered

The orangutan is the only member of the great ape family found in Asia. All other members of the great ape family are located in Africa; chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei), and bonobo (Pan paniscus).

There are three species of orangutan, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) distributed across the island of Borneo in Indonesia (Kalimantan) and Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak, the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) situated on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis).

The three species have been geographically separated for hundreds of thousands of years due to sea level rises and volcanic eruptions. Based on scientific research investigating genetics, morphology, ecology, behaviour and life history, Sumatran, Tapanuli, and Bornean orangutans demonstrate significant differences (Delgado & van Schaik, 2000; Groves, 2001; Zhang et al., 2001; Nater et al., 2017).

The Bornean orangutan

The Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) has a larger body size, and has dark or reddish brown short hair

The Sumatran orangutan

The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) has a smaller body size, with brighter orange hair

The Tapanuli orangutan

Tapanuli orangutans (Pongo tapanuliensisresemble Sumatran orangutans more than Bornean orangutans in body build and fur color. However, they have frizzier hair, smaller heads, and flatter faces

In all three species, male orangutans are much larger than the females, typically two to three times heavier. Male orangutans develop large cheek pads (flanges) which develop post-sexual maturity. Both male and female Tapanuli orangutans have beards, while only male Bornean orangutans have beards.

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