Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo




(Pongo pygmaeus)

Orangutan means "person of the forest" in the Malay language.

Distribution and Habitat

Orangutans live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and both Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo. Habitats range from peat swamp forests near sea level to mountainous forests. Orangutans are found in all levels of the forest.

Physical Characteristics

Orangutans have long, sparse, orangish or reddish hair all over their bodies. They have large jaws, flattened noses, and concave faces. Their arms are much longer than their legs. Their thumbs and big toes are proportionally shorter than their other digits. Adult females are about half the size of males. Adult males usually have large cheek pads, deep chests, large throat sacs, beards, and body hair that is much longer than females. These features make the males look larger, and perhaps more threatening, when defending themselves.

Life Span

Orangutans may live about 35 years in the wild, and up to 60 in zoos.


In the wild: Orangutans are mainly fruit eaters, though they also eat leaves, bark, soil, insects, and bird eggs. New observations in the wild have found that some orangutans have learned to fish.

In zoos: Orangutans are fed several small meals throughout the day. These meals include monkey chow, greens, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of their favorite enrichment meals include foraging for popcorn in their hay, working grapes out of puzzle boxes, and using pieces of browse to extract every last bit of peanut butter out of their treat tubes. They also get fresh browse every day.


Orangutans can swing hand over hand (brachiation), but they normally move cautiously through large trees by climbing and walking. They usually use all four limbs to move on the ground.


A single infant is born after 233 to 265 days of gestation. Sexual maturity is about eight years for females in the wild, later for males. Young are weaned at three to five years of age.

Conservation Status

Orangutans are endangered. Their habitat is being destroyed and fragmented into isolated pockets for legal and illegal logging and agriculture. Also, fires have destroyed much of their habitat.