Location: The Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia May 30th - May 31st
For two days my guide George and I cruised the Kinabatangan River. Facts about orangutans revealed themselves. Here they are!
1. I live alone, so scram friends! Sort of strange when nearly all other monkeys live in groups. A baby might stay with mom for 9 or so years, but then off they go, never to be seen again.
2. Where my nest at? Orangutans make simple nests to nap (many throughout the day) and a more complex looking one that sort of looks like a bird’s nest at night. They pull down branches and leaves to construct their nests and they never reuse a nest because they are always moving, searching for food.
3. Don’t get it twisted, I’m an individual. Unlike other animals (i.e., your cat whose notable marks include a spot on the tail) their faces look different from one another. Sometimes they have big lips, small eyes, a narrow face, big cheeks, or a even, for all you hipster lovers out there, a beard.
4. My people can only be found in two places. The rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are the only places you can currently find orangutans. They are endangered because of the development of the rainforests, usually to make room for palm plantations.
5. My name does not imply that my fur is orange. Orang in Malay means people and utan means forest. They are quite literally a person of the forest.
6. I am an ape. Not a monkey. How to distinguish one from the other? Only monkeys have tails.
7. Spending time on the ground is for gorillas and humans. Orangutans are arboreal, spend most of their times in trees and are rarely on the ground.
8. I like big cheeks and I cannot lie. If I’m a female that is. Alpha males tend to have large cheeks, which develop as they age.
9. I live until I am about 50 years old. And if I’m a female, I have about four children, one at a time approximately one every ten years.
10. If someone rescues me from living in someone’s home, like a pet, I go to an Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Here, orangutans learn what it is like to live in the wild before they are released again. YOU can actually put your name on a waiting list to volunteer at one of these centers!
A side note about an orangutan named Bev, proving how humanlike orangutans are.
So, Bev was found as a baby and taken in by a Malay family. Treated as part pet / part child, Bev developed human behaviors. When Bev was eventually seen and taken to a rehab center, she wouldn’t eat the fruit that orangutans normally consume. She would certainly not go near the pile of it placed on the ground. So, she waited. And then finally someone got her a chair, table, fork and spoon and a plate of rice. Bev then took a seat and ate her meal, with her utensils. One year later however, Bev was eating fruit, climbing trees and back to her animal status, ultimately released in the Borneo jungles.
11. I hate the water and getting wet. What happens when I have to cross a river? Well, there was one story shared about a mom and her young baby needing to cross a body of water. So, she found a log, laid on it, on her stomach and placed her baby on her back. Then she paddled using her hands. Yeah!
12. I will fight you. So, apes are territorial, especially the alpha males. If you get in one's zone, what happens? Well, he likely will hit, bite and attack you (another orangutan, that is because if you are a human, they'll just hide from you and make noises.) While the big guy below lost a few fingers in a fight (per my guide George) orangutans will usually reach for a tree, break off a stick and then just begin to hit each other with them. Ninja moves.
13. I wish I was 20lbs lighter. Sigh, don't we all?! Obesity is apparently a problem we share.
See how similar you are?! You and this drooling, large, hairy boy who doesn't have a tail and really just wants to eat food and nap all day... in peace!? It's amazing. They can solve problems like crossing rivers and fling their enormous bodies through the air. I do have a few questions about the obese orangutans though. They can even join you at the dinner table and use cutlery, if you teach them. The only thing they can't do is talk... yet.