The Amazing Sumatran Orangutan

Posted November 27, 2017 by Sarah Navarro

Guest Blogger: Kiarra Elliott, Zoo Academy Junior

This blog is part of  a series of guest blogs by our Zoo Academy students. To learn more about the Zoo Academy program, click here.

Hi, my name is Kiarra Elliott.  I am a junior at the Zoo Academy. The Zoo Academy is a high school at the Cincinnati Zoo for juniors and seniors. I am writing this blog because I want to tell you a little about the Sumatran orangutan, the most amazing animal in the Zoo (in my opinion)!

Tool usage

Orangutans are native to the tropical rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia. They are among the largest living arboreal (live in trees) animals in the world. They are known for being very intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools. In scientific studies, orangutans perform really similar to chimpanzees and gorillas in tests of cognitive ability. They are excellent tool users and tool makers. Orangutans in human care have been taught how to use tools for enrichment, and in the wild, orangutans have been observed making and using tools for opening and extracting fruit.

Here are some other fun facts about orangutans:

  • Orangutans are the only great apes in the world that are from Asia
  • When it rains or when it’s really hot and sunny, orangutans will hold up a leafy branch to protect
    themselves from getting wet or overheated
  • They can learn and be taught how to use objects
  • They are herbivores, which means they eat fruit, plants, and seeds
  • Share 97% of their genetic material with humans
  • When on the ground, they walk on all fours using only their palms and fist
  • There are two major species of orangutan, Bornean and Sumatran [though a third species was recently discovered]

The Sumatran orangutan (the species that lives at the Cincinnati Zoo) is from the tropical rainforests of northern Malaysia. There are 7,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the world – that’s not very many. They are listed as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Current estimates suggest that they could be the first great ape species to become extinct in the wild.  Sumatran orangutans’ homes are being taken away from them because of deforestation. One cause of deforestation is the creation of palm oil plantations. Palm oil is a type of edible vegetable oil that is in a lot of our food products. It’s a huge problem because orangutans are losing their homes to make room for these plantations.

I think people should really care about the Sumatran orangutan because they’re really amazing animals that are almost extinct because of us. The massive destruction that’s happening to the orangutan’s habitat, the tropical rainforest, is forcing them to lose their home. If we as human beings stop deforestation, hunting them, and making palm oil plantations, they may not go extinct.

We can all make a difference to help keep the Sumatran orangutan from going extinct such as avoiding products that have palm oil in them or choosing sustainable palm oil products, joining a cause to support orangutan conservation, going green, and spreading the word.

Thank you for reading about these amazing animals!