Facts about baby orangutans

Updated April 17, 2017

Most animals stay with their mothers for only a few weeks or months after birth until the mother leaves them to fend for themselves. The baby orangutan is an exception to this, since it stays with its mother for many years, learning to survive in the forests of its native land through the patient and careful care of its mother.

Orangutan basics

Orangutans are large apes that live in Southeast Asia. They have reddish brown hair, with hands and feet much like humans with four fingers and an opposable thumb and four long toes with an opposable big toe. An orangutan can grasp with both its hands and feet. They live primarily in trees and are known for swinging from branch to branch using their arms, though they are capable of walking. The female orangutan grows to be between 75 and 105 cm (2.5 to 3.5 feet) tall and can weigh up to 50 kg (110 pounds). The male orang-utan can grow to be between 105 and 135 cm (3.5 to 4.5 feet) tall and can weigh up to 91 kg (200 pounds).

Birth through adolescence

The female orangutan makes a nest of leaves and branches in a tree to sleep and shares her nest only with her offspring. Orangutans are born as a single baby after a gestation period of between 235 and 270 days. Most baby orangutans weigh about 1.4 kg (5 pounds) at birth and are carried by the mother for the first year. Orangutan mothers provide such great care for the young that the orangutan has a very low infant mortality rate. The mothers are very patient with their offspring, allowing them to sleep in their nest until they are around 4 or 5 years old. The offspring then continue to live with the mother until they are about 7 or 8 years old. Male adolescence ranges from age 7 to 10 and female adolescence is from age 7 to 12. An orangutan is usually capable of reproducing at age 10 but the average age of reproduction is 15.

Behaviours and lifespan

The orang-utan has no long-lasting social group aside from the 7 to 8 years an offspring spends with his mother. When the male and female orangutan mate, they only stay together for a few days. Orangutans are omnivores, so they eat both plants and animals though they do prefer to eat plants, especially fruit. They are very intelligent, constructing tools from the objects around them such as using leaves for drinking cups. Once grown, orangutans are solitary animals by nature because they need a lot of territory to keep them adequately fed. They will live to be about 50 years old in captivity or between 30 and 45 years old in the wild.

Logging and baby orangutans

Orangutans are an endangered species, as their habitat is disappearing quickly. Often loggers destroy the orangutan environment and leave behind orphaned babies. If the babies are rescued, they can sometimes be released back into the wild, but not until they are at least 5 years old and have learnt to survive on their own.

Pet trade and baby orangutans

The orangutan's biggest enemy is mankind. People capture baby orang-utans and sell them as pets. They smuggled them into countries like Taiwan, the United Kingdom and Germany where they sell for up to £32,500. Because the mother orangutan guards and protects the offspring so well most often the mother is killed in the process. Laws have been passed to protect the babies but the trade has not stopped.

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About the Author

Heather Mckinney has been writing for over 23 years. She has a published piece in the University Archives detailing the history of an independently owned student newspaper. Mckinney holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from University of Texas at San Antonio.