Orangutans are some of the most well-known apes mainly due to their vast intelligence and close genetic relationship with human beings. Wild populations of orangutans only exist within the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Scientists classify orangutans into three unique species, the Sumatran orangutan, the Bornean orangutan, and the Tapanuli orangutan which was the most recent species to be identified. One of the factors that distinguish the orangutan from gorillas and chimpanzees is the reddish-brown color of their hair. Orangutans are also unique from other species of apes since they mostly live solitary lives. Orangutans spend most of their time in the trees which significantly influences their diets.
Diet of Orangutans
The food that orangutans eat depends significantly on the availability within their environments which caused scientists to classify them as opportunistic foragers. Orangutans, like many mammals, learn their feeding habits when they are young from observing their mothers. Studies indicate that orangutans primarily feed on fruits and some estimates suggest that they make up close to 60% of the orangutan's diet. Orangutans prefer eating fruits that have a fatty pulp. Some of the most common fruits that the orangutans eat are ficus fruits since they are more accessible than other fruits and are easier to digest as well. Apart from fruits, orangutans also consume other parts of plants such as young leaves and shoots, which constitute 25% of their diet. Flowers and barks also form part of their diet. Insects, particularly termites, ants, and crickets also form a significant part of the orangutans' diet.
Diet of Orangutans in Captivity
A significant number of orangutans live in captivity where they are provided with food by their handlers. In captivity, orangutans have access to a wider variety of food than in the wild. The San Diego Zoo has a significant population of orangutans, and their diet mainly comprises of fruits such as oranges, grapes, and bananas. The zoo also gives their orangutans treats such as papaya, popcorn, and peanut butter.
Importance of the Orangutan's Feeding Habits
In the wild, orangutans play a significant role in dispersing the seeds of various fruit species. A study carried out by the Borneo Nature Foundation discovered that orangutans played a vital role in dispersing ficus seeds. The seeds spread by orangutans may grow into trees that may feed future generations of orangutans.
The IUCN classify the orangutan as critically endangered due to the low population of individuals left in the wild. According to World Wildlife, there are approximately 104,700 Bornean orangutans, 13,846 Sumatran orangutans, and 800 Tapanuli orangutans. Human activities such as deforestation pose a significant threat to orangutans in the wild. Humans also hunt orangutans and capture the offspring to be sold as pets. Data indicates that the number of Sumatran orangutans could decrease by close to 80% in the future. Some organizations and conservation centers have been set up to increase the global population of orangutans. The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation is one of the most prominent organizations dedicated to protecting orangutans.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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