Singapore: Hangin' with the Orang Utans
Hangin’ with the Orang Utans
You’re probably already somewhat familiar with the orang utan, but the Singapore Zoo wants to help you learn even more about our closest living relatives. Fossils indicate that the orang utan once roamed throughout all of Southeast Asia, but they’re now confined to the forests of Malaysia and Indonesia.
Orang utans are primates, a group of mammals that includes monkeys, apes, and even us humans. The Singapore Zoo is home to the world’s two species of orang utan (the Bornean and the Sumatran.) Orang utans love climbing trees, and their extremely long arms are well-suited for just that purpose. A full-grown male could have an arm span of seven feet, even if he is only five feet tall! When an orang utan is standing, their hands nearly touch the ground, but some orangs spend up to 90 percent of their time in the trees.
Us humans tend to be pretty social, but the orang utan’s life is mostly a solitary one, especially for the males. Males are loners and they even wander through the forest making plenty of noise to ensure that other males can hear them and stay far away. Sometimes their call can be heard over a mile away. Females, on the other hand, bond strongly with their young. An infant orang utan might stay with its mother for six or seven years before it can survive on its own!
Life for the orang utan is changing rapidly, though. The Bornean orang utan is considered to be endangered, and the Sumatran orang utan is critically endangered. Their forest homes are quickly being destroyed by logging and conversion of rainforest land to palm oil plantations. Habitat destruction isn’t the only problem they face, though, as I learned at the Singapore Zoo.
Despite disturbingly low numbers of orang utans in the wild, conservation efforts are underway, especially here, in Singapore. The Singapore Zoo was the first zoo in the world to create a free-ranging area for its orang utans. This exhibit is one of the zoo’s largest and it features an island and a boardwalk filled with lush vegetation and tall trees to mimic the orang utans natural habitat. There’s room for the orang utans climb, swing, and play.