Our Red Relatives
Orangutans are arguably the most intelligent of the great apes and one of our closest relatives. However, because of the ongoing destruction of the remaining rainforests, they are on the brink of extinction.
The name orangutan is of Malayan origin and means "man - or more correctly, 'person' - of the forest". They live only in Southeast Asia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra and are divided into two species: the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus
) and the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii
). Both species are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a list of the world's most endangered species that is kept and updated by the World Conservation Union IUCN. Whilst the Bornean orangutan is classified as 'Endangered' on the red list, with an estimated population of some 54,000 remaining, the Sumatran orangutan is listed as 'Critically Endangered' with only circa 6,600 individuals left. The Sumatran orangutan is also listed as one of the World's Top 25 Most Endangered Primates!
Like humans, all the great apes are extremely intelligent. Orangutans also share 96,7% of our own DNA. They recognize themselves in the mirror, learn from and teach each other new things, and they have been shown to take another individual's perspective, seeing a situation through another's eyes. Scientists have even taught them communication skills, such as human sign language and the use of computer touch-screens. In zoos, orangutans are well known - and sometimes feared too - as the most adept tool users among the animals, and the best escape artists!