"What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts, also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth."
- Chief Seattle
The love I have for orangutans comes from an early age. Like most little sisters, my older brother ruthlessly teased me. When I was a baby he would make me mimic funny faces and stick my hair up on end. He said I looked like an orangutan. His teasing continued, but instead of getting mad, I became interested. I began taking a look at these creatures and soon discovered that being compared to one wasn't completely wrong. Actually, orangutans have 97% of the same DNA as humans. So maybe my brother's teasing was not that far off, not that I'll mention that fact to him anytime soon!
Orangutans are part of the Great Ape group that are the closest animals related to humans. Orangutans are unique in the ape world in that the other three types, gorillas, chimpanzees, and baboons, are all from Africa. Orangutans are the only apes to come from Asia. Another distinction of the orangutan is their hair, which is bright reddish brown instead of light brown or black like the other species. However, probably the biggest difference is that orangutans are the only arboreal apes. This means that they live primarily in the trees, while the other apes move along the forest ground. In fact, they are the largest animals in the world to dwell in trees.
Orangutans used to live as far away as Thailand and Cambodia, but due to human encroachment, they are now only found in the wild in two of Indonesia's islands, Sumatra and Borneo. Their name comes from the Malay words, “orang” and “utan” which translated means “man of the forest.” Natives use to leave the orangutans alone, fearing that they were either spirits, or runaway slaves that hid in the forest to get away from work. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case, and natives are stripping away these creatures' habitats for commercial business. If things don't change, it is believed that orangutans will be extinct in the wild in as few as ten years. This is something that can only be changed with human intervention.
Two major causes of orangutan endangerment are the illegal selling of baby orangutans and the unlawful logging of the rainforest in which they live. The bond between a mother orangutan and her baby is the longest childhood dependence of any animal in the world. Orangutans will only have one child about every eight years. Baby orangutans nurse until they are about six years old and then they still stay close to their mothers for a few more years. Female orangutans will sometimes stay with their mother until their adolescents, in order to learn how to take care of their own babies by watching their mothers take care of a younger sibling.