What are Orangutans?

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Scientists recently observed a wild male orangutan repeatedly rubbing chewed-up leaves of a medicinal plant on a facial wound in a forest reserve in Indonesia.

Why in News?

It’s the first known observation of a wild animal using a plant to treat a wound, and adds to evidence that humans are not alone in using plants for medicinal purposes.

About Orangutans:

  • Known for their distinctive red fur, Orangutans are the largest arboreal (animals that live in trees) mammals.
    • They spend more than 90 percent of their waking hours in the trees.
  • Distribution: They live on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and on both the Malaysian and Indonesian portions of the island of Borneo.
  • Habitat: Habitats range from peat swamp forests near sea level to mountainous forests almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) above sea level. 
  • There are three species of Orangutans-the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli.
  • They are one of humankind’s closest relatives. These great apes share 96.4% of our genes and are highly intelligent creatures.
  • Features:

The adult male is typically twice the size of the female and may attain a height of 1.3 metres (4.3 feet) and a weight of 130 kg (285 pounds) in the wild.

They have long, sparse orange or reddish hair unequally distributed over their bodies. 

They are very well adapted to life in the trees, with arms much longer than their legs. They have grasping hands and feet with long curved fingers and toes. 

Older males develop wide cheek pads, a unique feature among primates. 

Lifespan: Up to 50 years in the wild.

Diet: Daytime eaters, their diet consists mostly of fruit and leaves, but they also eat nuts, bark, insects, and, once in a while, bird eggs, too.

Social Structure: Orangutans live semi-solitary lives in the wild. While they are the most solitary of the great apes, they exhibit social tolerance during times of high fruit abundance when they come together in aggregations known as parties.

Conservation status: All three species are classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ under the IUCN Red List.

Q1: What are peat swamp forests?

Peat swamp forests form in areas where saturated soils or frequent flooding prevent organic material from fully decomposing. As this organic material slowly accumulates, it retains even more water through capillary action: up to 13 times its weight. Acting as a giant sponge that holds in the moisture, peat swamps eventually form a dome of wet organic material that can rise above the surrounding flood levels.

Source: In a first, an orangutan is seen using medicinal plant to treat a wound