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Distinctive for its red-orange hair, the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is native to the island of Borneo, and belongs to the only genus of great apes found in Asia. Due to deforestation and poaching, the Bornean orangutan is critically endangered according to the IUCN.
See the fact file below for more information on the Bornean orangutan or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Bornean Orangutan worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- The Bornean and Sumatran orangutan species diverged about 400,000 years ago, with a low level of gene flow carried on since then. These two species were believed to be subspecies until 1996; they were regrouped to species following sequencing of their DNA.
- The Bornean orangutan has three subspecies, namely Northwest Bornean orangutan (P. p. pygmaeus) of Sarawak (Malaysia) and northern West Kalimantan (Indonesia), Central Bornean orangutan (P. p. wurmbii) of Southern West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan (Indonesia), and Northeast Bornean orangutan (P. p. morio) of East Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Sabah (Malaysia).
- Classified under the family Hominidae, Bornean orangutans are among the closest living relatives to Homo sapiens.
- These orangutan species were initially discovered by native Malaysians. There are a number of Malaysian folklore that mentions these orangutans; however, they were originally named and described by zoologist Carl Linnaeus in 1799. Their former name was Simia satyrus, meaning “satyr monkey”, but was later changed when researchers found out that not all orangutans are of the same species.
- Pygmaeus, its current species name, came from the Greek word pygmy meaning dwarf. The genus name, Pongo, originated from the Bantu word mpongo which is used to describe a large primate.
- The second-largest ape after the gorilla, the Bornean orangutan is also known to be the largest truly arboreal extant species today. Its body weight extensively overlaps with the taller Homo sapiens, although the latter is significantly more irregular in size.
- It also resembles the Sumatran orangutan which is similar in size but, on average, is slightly lighter in weight.
- Male Bornean orangutans found in the wild can reach 50 to 100 kg and 1.2 to 1.7 m long, while females reach 30 to 50 kg and 1 to 1.2 m long. Orangutans held in captivity have higher chances of being overweight, and can grow up to more than 165 kg. The heaviest recorded caged orangutan was Andy, an obese male species who weighed 204 kg in 1959 when he was 13 years old.
- The Bornean orangutan has a unique stature with very slender arms that may reach up to 1.5 m in length. It has grey skin, rough, shaggy, reddish hair, and prehensile, grasping hands and feet. Its coat does not reach its face unlike other mammals, although this species grows some hair on its face, including a beard and mustache. It also has huge, fatty cheek pads called flanges as well as an enlarged throat sac.
- This orangutan species is highly sexually dimorphic and has a number of features that differentiates the two sexes. Males have larger flanges composed of muscle and fat, while flanges of females are mostly made up of muscle. Males have somewhat larger canines and premolars, a more obvious beard and muscle, and a relatively pronounced throat sac.
- There are two body types for males that are sexually mature: larger ones are more dominant but smaller males still breed successfully.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
- The Bornean orangutan inhabits the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest of the Bornean lowlands, as well as other mountainous regions of up to 1,500 m above sea level. It can also be spotted throughout the canopy of primary and secondary forest, and travels large distances to search for fruit-bearing trees.
- This species also lives in the two Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, and four of the five Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan.
- Deforestation caused the Bornean orangutan’s population to be highly distributed across the island; it has also become rare in the southeast part of the island, even in the forest between the Rajang River and Padas River.
- The first complete set of orangutan skeleton was found in Hoa Binh province in Vietnam. This fossil confirms that orangutan species were once inhabitants of the continental southeast Asia even though currently, these mammals can only be seen in Malaysia and Indonesia.
BEHAVIOR AND ECOLOGY
- Bornean orangutans are more solitary than their Sumatran cousins. Two or three orangutans on the same territory may interact for short periods of time.
- Although not territorial, adult males are largely solitary and show threatening behaviors upon interacting with other males, and only socialize with females to copulate.
- Bornean orangutans reach an average lifespan of 35 to 45 years in the wild, and 60 years in captivity.
- Despite preferring to live in trees, the Bornean orangutan wanders on foot more than its Sumatran relatives, which may be caused by the lack of large terrestrial predators in Borneo. In Sumatra, these orangutan species are usually preyed upon by the Sumatran tiger.
- Bornean orangutans also build nests for use at night or during the day. Young orangutans observe their mother’s nest-building skills, and these babies soon apply what they have learned.
- Nests serve as a foundation and mattress made of intertwining leaves and branches. Additional features of their nests include shade, waterproof roof, “pillow”, and “blanket”, all of which are composed of branches, twigs, and leaves.
- Their diet consists of over 400 types of food, including wild figs, durians, leaves, seeds, bird eggs, flowers, honey, insects, barks, and even inner shoots of plants and vines. They drink water from both fruit and tree holes.
- Bornean orangutans have been seen using spears to try (unsuccessfully) to catch fish. They were also sighted using materials such as leaves to wipe off feces, a pad of leaves for carrying spiny spiny durian fruit, a leafy branch for a killing bees, a bundle of leafy branches held together as an “umbrella” while wandering during the rainy season, a stick for scratching their back, and a branch or tree trunk as a missile.
- In other areas, Bornean orangutans seldom eat soil to obtain minerals that may detoxify acids they consume in their primarily vegetarian diets. On some occasions, they will also hunt other smaller primates, such as slow lorises.
- Adults generally interact with each other only to mate. Subadult unflanged males will attempt to mate with any female and have a 50% success rate. Dominant flanged males will want to mate with receptive females. Adult males sometimes choose females with weaned infants as mating partners since these females are highly fertile.
- Females reach sexual maturity and undergo their first ovulatory cycle between six and 11 years old, although those with more body fat may experience this phase at an earlier age.
- Females give birth at about 14 to 15 years of age. Newborns nurse every three to four hours, and start to take soft food from their mother’s lips after four months.
- The birthrate of Bornean orangutans is declining mainly because of the lack of sufficient nutrients brought about by habitat loss.
- Bornean orangutans are more common than their Sumatran counterparts, with roughly 54,500 individuals found in the wild.
- These animals are becoming increasingly endangered because of the threats they are facing, such as habitat destruction and bushmeat trade; young orangutans are captured and are sold as pets.
- According to the IUCN Red List of mammals, they are already classified as critically endangered since the total estimate of their number is less than 14% of what was in the past 10,000 years.
Bornean Orangutan Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Bornean Orangutan across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Bornean Orangutan worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) which is native to the island of Borneo, and belongs to the only genus of great apes found in Asia. Due to deforestation and poaching, the Bornean orangutan is critically endangered according to the IUCN.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Bornean Orangutan Facts
- Gardeners of the Rainforest
- Describing Its Anatomy
- Things You Need to Know
- Test Yourself
- Story of My Life
- Three Species
- Orangutan Cousins
- Tell Me More
- Bornean Orangutan Recap
- No to Deforestation
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Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.