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Animals - Bornean Orang-utan

Bornean Orang-utan Classification and Evolution

The Bornean Orang-utan is a large primate species that is found inhabiting the humid tropical jungles of Borneo. Also known as the Red Ape, the Bornean Orang-utan is the second largest ape species in the world (after the Gorilla) and is the largest tree-dwelling animal on the planet. Although the Bornean Orang-utan is closely related to the great apes found in Africa, they differ greatly in their behaviour with the biggest difference being that the Bornean Orang-utan is largely solitary where other ape species tend to adopt complex social hierarchies. Until recently there was thought to only be one Orang-utan species but recent genetic research has shown that there is in fact two species of Orang-utan which are the Bornean Orang-utan and the Sumatran Orang-utan, which is slightly smaller in size and tends to be more sociable than it's larger cousin. There are considered to be three different sub-species of the Bornean Orang-utan, which although are similar in appearance, are differentiated by the areas of the island that they occupy. They are the Northwest Bornean Orang-utan, the Central Bornean Orang-utan and the Northeast Bornean Orang-utan.

Bornean Orang-utan Anatomy and Appearance

The Bornean Orang-utan is covered in patchy red or orange hair with it's coarse grey skin being visible in some places. As they are largely arboreal mammals, the Bornean Orang-utan has a number of adaptations that help it when in the canopy including having feet that can grip as effectively as it's hands, and arms that can grow to a span of more than two meters and are actually 30% longer than their legs. The face of the Bornean Orang-utan is bare and displays the grey or black colour of their skin. Mature males also develop fleshy cheek pouches which are made up of fat deposits under the skin, along with throat poaches that are able to produce a deep, resonating sound through the forest. Both male and female Bornean Orang-utans are specially designed for opening and eating fruits with dexterous hands and feet for peeling and large flat teeth that help to grind down harder seeds and tree bark.

Bornean Orang-utan Distribution and Habitat

The Bornean Orang-utan is natively found on the island of Borneo where it inhabits areas of dense primary forest, mainly in the lowlands and valleys. Although they can be found at elevations of up to 1,500 meters they tend to prefer the lush slopes further down due to the higher abundance and variety of food. Although the Bornean Orang-utan (and indeed the Sumatran Orang-utan) were once widespread throughout south-east Asia, they are today confined to the two islands which they named after but are seriously vulnerable in their natural surroundings due to logging and forest fires which have decimated much of their once vast native regions. Due to the fact that the Bornean Orang-utan spends nearly all of it's life high in the tree canopy, they rely on these dense and rich jungles to survive and with less and less of their natural habitats remaining, they are being forced into more smaller and more isolated regions away from the increasing levels of Human activity.

Bornean Orang-utan Behaviour and Lifestyle

Unlike the other great ape species, the Bornean Orang-utan is largely solitary with the exception of mother and infant pairs and the gathering of a number of individuals around heavily laden fruit trees. Bornean Orang-utans spend much of their days sitting and eating in the canopy before constructing a nest by folding leafy branches over, where they sleep at night. Bornean Orang-utans move slowly through the steamy forests and as they are too heavy to jump, they rely on swinging tree branches back and forth until they can get close enough to grab onto the next one. Despite only travelling just over half a mile a day, Bornean Orang-utans can occupy vast home ranges that are loosely shared with other individuals with males having breeding rights with any female that enters their patch, marking their presence with deep, loud calls which echo through the trees.

Bornean Orang-utan Reproduction and Life Cycles

The Bornean Orang-utan is known to breed year round but these slow-developing and maturing animals are not able to reproduce until they are often nearly 15 years old. After a gestation period that lasts for up to 9 months, the female Bornean Orang-utan gives birth to a single infant which clings onto it's mother's fur and is completely dependent on her for up to 10 years. Despite the young Bornean Orang-utans being weaned when they are around three years old, offspring continue to shadow their mother so as to learn about what to eat and where to find it and also for safety. Eventually leaving her to establish their own territory when they are at least eight years old, young females tend to remain close to their mother whereas young males can roam the forest for a long time before they finally find a patch of their own. Bornean Orang-utans tend to live for up to 35 years in the wild but can reach almost double that age in captivity.

Bornean Orang-utan Diet and Prey

The Bornean Orang-utan is technically an omnivorous animal which means that they find and eat a variety of both plant and animal matter. Despite this, Bornean Orang-utans love fruit with around 60% of their diet being comprised of a wide variety of both ripe and unripe fruits including mangoes, durian, figs and lychees. In the tropics though, different trees bare their fruits at different times of the year so Bornean Orang-utans must make a mental note of where the fruit trees are and when their fruits ripen. In order to supplement their diet though, Bornean Orang-utans also eat a range of plant matter including young shoots and leaves along with insects, eggs and small vertebrates such as Lizards on occasion. Although in areas where their is a rich and abundant supply of food Bornean Orang-utans are known to congregate together to feed, one of the reasons why they are so solitary is that if they lived together in a group in one area, there simply would not be enough food to go around.

Bornean Orang-utan Predators and Threats

Historically Bornean Orang-utans would hardly ever come down to the ground in fear of being preyed upon by large carnivores like Tigers, Bears and Clouded Leopards but with the extinction of the Tiger particularly throughout much of the island males are known to spend around 5% of their time on the forest floor. However, 40,000 years ago a new threat emerged in the form of modern Humans that hunted the Bornean Orang-utan to extinction in numerous parts of their once vast natural range. Today they are protected by law but infants are still captured for the exotic pet trade and the mothers are often killed in the process. The biggest threat though to Borneo's remaining Orang-utan populations is habitat loss in the form of deforestation for logging or to clear land for farming and agriculture, primarily to make way for palm oil plantations.

Bornean Orang-utan Interesting Facts and Features

The sound that male Bornean Orang-utans make to mark their territories comes from their developing throat pouch and is so booming that it can travel for more than a mile throughout the forest, to not only attract females but also to intimate rival males. Bornean Orang-utans are unique amongst great apes as their arboreal lifestyle has led to their limbs having more mobility than other species, allowing them to negotiate around tricky branches more easily. In the same way however to other great ape species, Bornean Orang-utans have bee observed using tools to help them in their daily lives. Seemingly dependent on where the individual lives, skills are passed onto infants from their mothers with sticks being used to extract termites and honey and even large leaves are used as a form of umbrella to keep the Bornean Orang-utan dry.

Bornean Orang-utan Relationship with Humans

Since their arrival in south-east Asia modern Humans have been fascinated by this slow-moving and majestic mammal with their name in the native Malay language meaning "man of the forest" or "forest people". Bornean Orang-utans are remarkably similar to us both in their appearance and behaviour with these highly intelligent creatures having evolved perfectly to their tropical, tree-dwelling lives. However, the hunting of the Bornean Orang-utan and the deforestation of it's once vast natural habitat has led to drastic declines in their population numbers particularly over the past century. Adults are often killed if they are seen in or close to plantations when looking for food and their young are captured to be sold into the exotic pet trade, despite their heavy legal protection.

Bornean Orang-utan Conservation Status and Life Today

Today, the Bornean Orang-utan is listed by the IUCN as a species that is Endangered in it's natural environment and is therefore severely threatened from extinction in the near future. The loss of their historic, unique and incredibly bio-diverse habitats has led to a 92% drop in their population numbers in the past 100 years and if things continue the way they are going, it will not be long before they have disappeared from the wild forever. Rehabilitation programmes exist throughout the island and so far seem to be having relative success but with deforestation (now even in protected areas) for logging and to clear land to make way for palm oil plantations, population numbers can only be expected to continue to fall.

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