Friday, 15 November 2013

Orangutans - Now I'm The King Of The Swingers

Orangutans are considered to be one of the most majestic great apes and this week the Orangutan Foundation is trying to raise awareness about this beautiful animal by holding Orangutan Awareness Week.

From Monday 11- Sunday 17 November, charities, zoos and organisations up and down the country are bringing the plight of orangutans and the loss of their rainforest habitat to the forefront of an international campaign. This movement hopes to prevent the extinction of the orangutan and raise money to fund more conservation projects in order to learn more about and try to save these amazing animals.

Poignantly, the name orangutan in Malay language means "person of the forest".

The world's largest tree-dwelling mammals, orangutans can only be found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia, hence why the two species are named the Bornean and the Sumatran. While other apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees sleep in the trees and move around on the ground, orangutans spend almost all their time in the rainforest canopy and will only go down to the forest floor to eat.

They depend on rain in order to find food, because the tropical variety enables the forest trees that they eat from to produce flowers and fruit. Interestingly, orangutans find food by partly remembering where they found it last and 90% of their diet is made up of fruit. However, they will also eat nectar, bark, insects and even small mammals such as mice. Some days they will spend up to six hours simply feeding or looking for food.

When it comes to babies, you can't get much cuter than this! Seriously, it took me much longer to write this post than most of my others because I couldn't stop looking at the baby orangutans. However on another note, these great apes will usually give birth to one baby after an 8-9 month pregnancy. Very rarely, will a female give birth to twins - can you imagine, twice the cuteness!

What is so lovely about orangutans is that for the first two years of its life, a baby will be in constant physical contact with its mother. The females will do anything for their young and carry their child for the first year of its life. She will hold her baby to her chest as she moves through the rainforest searching for food and at times the youngster will be clinging onto her up to 30m above the ground! Their eyes are open at birth and the baby orangutan learns very quickly how to use its fingers to grip onto things.

After three to four months, the baby will begin to eat soft fruit, but will continue to drink its mother's milk until it is at least four years old. Now it is classed as a juvenile. However, it is not until they are five years old that they will begin to spend more time away from their mother and finally by the age of seven, the orangutan is a sub-adult and fully independent.

The real problem with orangutans is that they have such a slow breeding rate, which constantly puts their status into jeopardy. While the female can have babies at around seven years old, they will normally have their first young at around nine or ten and after that they only give birth every four to five years.

Interestingly, when it comes to the males being able to breed, they are not fully mature until they are at least ten years old. Consequently, the males' advance will always be rejected by a female if he is younger than this and because the females are so much lighter than the males, they can flee by moving into the higher, smaller branches of the trees in the rainforest.

As illustrated by the above picture, this male has developed cheek pads. This only occurs when the male has established his own territory and is able to breed. This development may also allow him to make his loud, booming calls.

Adult males can reach 1.5m in height and weigh as much as 100kg (15 stone). On the other hand, the females are only 1m tall and weigh up to 45kg (7 stone). They can also live for more than 50 years, which I believe is a major achievement.

Sadly, it is estimated that just 50,000-60,000 orangutans are left in the wild and this is due to threats such as deforestation, mining and the palm oil industry. In 1997, huge fires were started in the orangutan's forests because people wanted to use the land for farming. However, the fires got out of control and spread rapidly. In the end the fires burnt for more than a month and destroyed more than 1,000 square km of forest.

It's important that organisations continue to raise awareness about the orangutans' plight. This is because if habitat loss continues at the rate it is, experts estimate that by 2022 98% of Indonesia's rainforest will be destroyed. Sadly, this would cause the numbers of orangutans to fall dramatically and could result in their extinction.

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