#BAYC captures how we see in orangutans parts of our inner selves, of our past and maybe our future too. Yet we continue to destroy the habitat of perhaps the most mysterious and fascinating of all the apes, who we know so little about. Own your own orangutan portrait.
#JAPES family tree part2: Orangutans
The name ‘orangutan’ translates into English as “person of the forest”. Orangutans are the gentle, quiet and solitary members of the ape family, and the only great ape species to reside outside of Africa. And they are a uniquely arboreal ape – for they live their lives quietly moving through the upper echelons of the ancient trees of the Borneo and Sumatran rainforest, only gracing the forest floor when they need to. Humans below often only see a glimpse of the flowing auburn hair that is unique to the most mysterious of the great apes.
Adult orangutans have been seen brushing their teeth whilst bathing and washing themselves. On hot days, they soak sponge-like vegetation in running water and cool their foreheads. When it rains, they break off vines and large leaves and weave them together, creating umbrellas to keep their children dry. Orangutan babies often smile at their mothers in ways unerringly familiar to newborn humans.
Orangutans may not be of this earth for long. For, throughout the 20th century, their population has been in precipitous decline. The Bornean orangutan was declared critically endangered in 2016. In less than 70 years, its population has declined by more than 80 percent as the forests in which it lives continue to be decimated by human consumption for products like palm oil. From 1999 to 2015, the orangutan population of Borneo, which dates back, it is thought, by millions of years, declined by more than 100,000 according to the journal Current Biology. On Sumatra, the only other island home to orangutans, more than half of the forest has been lost since 1985.
We would lose the most nurturing of animals. Orangutan children stay with their mothers for longer than any mammal except humans. And their mothers patiently teach them everything, without ever aggressively chiding their offspring; how to evade predators, how to behave with fellow orangutans, how to recognize and gather more than 200 food items, how to use tools in a way more advanced than any animal on planet earth, beyond us. They are the people of the forest, the mothers of the animal kingdom, perhaps the most beautiful ape of them all.