Asia’s only great ape, the orang-utan or ‘man of the forest’ is found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Globally classified as endangered due to their habitat being destroyed, fragmented and poaching, orang-utans in Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak) are probably best classed as ‘vulnerable’.
Much of their prime habitat has been converted to plantations and the rate of habitat loss has hit a very low level in recent years. There is almost no hunting of this species in Malaysia, and most of the remaining populations are found in forests that are protected or under natural forest management.
Borneo is unique in that it has three distinct populations or subspecies of orang-utans:
- Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus (northwest populations)
- Pongo pygmaeus morio (northeast and east populations)
- Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii (southwest populations)
Orang-utans in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak occur mainly in the lowlands. In Sarawak, there are about 1,300 orang-utans, almost all in the Lanjak-Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary and Batang Ai National Park in the south next to West Kalimantan, Indonesia. In Sabah, there were five main areas of special importance with a total of 20,000 orang-utans in the mid 1980s (by WWF-Malaysia working with the Sabah Forestry Department, 1986). By 2004, the orang-utan population in Sabah had dropped to about 11,000 individuals (by Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project working with Sabah Wildlife Department, 2003). This decline in their numbers in the last twenty years was caused by planned conversion of forests to plantations in the eastern lowlands.
Physical and species description
Orang-utans generally have brown and rust-coloured shaggy fur. Weighing in at an average of 50 kg, female orang-utans grow to about 1.1 m in height and weigh 30 - 50 kg. Males weigh 50-90 kg and stand 1.2 - 1.5 m tall.