These strange creatures are quite unique – they are the only great ape to live outside Africa, and the only one which does not live in a group. They are also uniquely adapted to their forest habitat, spending far more time in the trees than their African cousins – chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas – building nests to sleep in and swinging through the treetops with their great, long arms. Orangutans are renowned for their intelligence; some groups have been discovered using tools, and they have been observed using leaves to make rain hats and as waterproof covers for their nests. Experiments in the 1960s also found they were able to learn basic sign language – putting them on an intellectual par with chimps.
Baby orangutans are much like baby humans; they spend seven or eight years by their mothers’ sides, learning to climb, swing, forage and build nests. Orphans who arrive at the rehabilitation centres are paired with adults through a buddy system, as their human carers cannot teach them all they need to know about being a wild orangutan! Orangutans eat fruit, bark, honey, leaves and insects – but one of their favourite treats is the foul-smelling durian fruit.