© WWF-Malaysia

© WWF-Malaysia


To gaze into the soulful eyes of an orang-utan is to look into our very own future. Known to the Malays as the ‘man of the forest’, this tree-dwelling mammal shares almost 97% of its genetic sequence with humans and its predicament mirrors that of our own.

A highly intelligent creature, with long, powerful arms and grasping hands and feet, the orang-utan moves through the treetops of lowland forests with ease. It lives a solitary existence, feasting on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens and figs, and slurping water from holes in trees.

But the loss and degradation of its forest home, largely through unsustainable (and often illegal) timber harvesting, now has the orang-utan – Asia's only great ape – out on a limb. And it’s not alone. Healthy forests are just as vital to the livelihoods and culture of the Indigenous people of Indonesia and Malaysia, not to mention a myriad other forest animals and plants.

What WE'RE doing

See our conservation work on the orang-utan.

Bornean orang-utan and baby, Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia © naturepl.com / Fiona Rogers / WWF

Why it matters 

Orang-utans are the ultimate forest gardeners, spreading seeds to help maintain the forest ecosystem. Not only is this important to a host of other animals, including the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant and Sumatran rhino, it helps to ensure resources for people. By conserving the orang-utan’s habitat, we’re also protecting other species and benefiting local communities.

Its extremely slow reproductive rate makes the orang-utan highly vulnerable. Females take a long time to reach sexual maturity (10-15 years), usually give birth to just one infant every 6-8 years, and the youngster stays with its mother for about the first 10 years of its life. This means that the interval between babies can be as long as 10 years and orang-utan populations can take a long time to recover from declines.

With human pressures increasing, orang-utans face a growing risk of extinction.

Orang-utan baby (Pongo pygmaeus), Semengoh Nature reserve, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia © naturepl.com / Edwin Giesbers / WWF

Pongo pygmaeus

Species Bio

Common Name

Bornean orang-utan

Scientific Name

Pongo pygmaeus


Population: Borneo’s orangutan population is estimated to have been 288,500 individuals in 1973, but current estimates are 55,000 individuals.


Listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List


Orang-utans can live up to 50 years in the wild. Females first reproduce between 10-15 years of age. They give birth, at the most, once every six years, and the interval between babies can be as long as 10 years.


Did you know?

• Orang-utans usually give birth to a single baby or occasionally twins. Orang-utans stay with their mothers for the first 7-11 years of their life.


The challenges they face

  • Fire
  • Landclearing and deforestation
  • Orang-utans – in both Sumatra and Borneo – are losing their treetop homes and food as forests are converted to oil palm and timber plantations (largely to feed the pulp and paper sector). It's a major threat to their survival.

    In both cases, fire is often used to clear the land, and it can rapidly spread out of control – especially across dried peat swamps – adding to the already devastating impacts of deforestation.

    Ongoing deforestation and habitat loss brings orang-utans into closer and more frequent contact with humans, especially when forests no longer contain the food they need. Sadly, humans often become a direct threat. They poach these gentle apes for the pet trade, for food, or in retaliation when they move into agricultural areas and destroy crops. Unfortunately, the large and slow orang-utans are easy targets.


    No matter where you live, no matter how small your actions are, we can all play a part in helping to save the orang-utan and its forest home.

    Adopt an orang-utan: Symbolically adopt one of these great apes through WWF and your donation will support WWF’s conservation efforts, including the protection of orang-utans.

    Shop wisely: Avoid buying endangered wildlife products when on holiday. The illegal wildlife trade is having a devastating effect on our endangered species.

    Buy forest-friendly products: Choose recycled paper and FSC-certified wood products.

    You can also support companies using palm oil certified to RSPO standards and buy products carrying the RSPO label.

    Recommended Reading

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