Sumatran Orangutan

Pongo abelii

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Ryan E. Poplin / Creative Commons / Original

Known to make mental maps of the forest!


Sumatran Orangutan Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Pongo abelii

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Status

Sumatran Orangutan Locations

Sumatran Orangutan Locations

Sumatran Orangutan Facts

Fruits, Shoots, Insects
Name Of Young
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Known to make mental maps of the forest!
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Hunting and habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Long arms and long, orange hair
Other Name(s)
Red Ape, Forest Person
Gestation Period
9 months
Dense, tropical forest
Diet for this Fish
Average Litter Size
  • Diurnal
Common Name
Sumatran orangutan
Number Of Species
Northern Sumatra
Known to make mental maps of the forest!

Sumatran Orangutan Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Red
  • Orange
Skin Type
Top Speed
2.7 mph
30 - 40 years
30kg - 82kg (66lbs - 180lbs)
1.25m - 1.5m (4ft - 5ft)
Age of Sexual Maturity
12 - 15 years
Age of Weaning
3 years

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Sumatran Orangutan Classification and Evolution

The Sumatran orangutan is one of three orangutan species in Asia, and they are natively found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra (the other species being the Bornean orangutan that is endemic to Borneo and the Tapanuli orangutan that is only found in an isolated region of northwestern Sumatra). Also known as the Red Ape, orangutan are the only species of great ape found outside of Africa and differ somewhat from their cousins overseas. Unlike other ape species that are highly sociable animals, the Sumatran orangutan leads a very solitary lifestyle in comparison with males and females only really coming together to mate. Another distinctive difference between the Sumatran orangutan and Africa’s great apes is that orangutan spend nearly all of their lives high in the trees where gorillas and chimpanzees spend the majority of their time foraging and resting in the dense vegetation on the ground. The Sumatran orangutan is more threatened than the Bornean orangutan with hunting and habitat loss having decimated populations throughout much of their once vast natural range.

Sumatran Orangutan Anatomy and Appearance

The Sumatran orangutan (along with the Bornean orangutan and the Tapanuli orangutan) is the largest arboreal animal in the world and has therefore evolved a number of key adaptations for aiding it in its almost exclusively tree-dwelling lifestyle. Sumatran orangutan have arms that are much longer than their legs to help them to reach out to branches, and both their hands and feet are incredibly agile and dexterous and capable of holding a tight grip for some time. Like ours, their thumbs are opposable which also helps the Sumatran orangutan when picking and peeling fruits. The Sumatran orangutan tends to be slightly smaller in size than the Bornean orangutan, with generally lighter coloured orange-red hair and a longer beard than its cousin. Male Sumatran orangutans develop fleshy cheek pads and throat pouches as they mature but these are narrower and not as pronounced as those found on male Bornean orangutans. Sumatran orangutans also have slightly larger heads and rounder faces than the Tapanuli orangutans also found on the island of Sumatra.

Sumatran Orangutan Distribution and Habitat

The Sumatran orangutan would have once been found widely distributed across the island of Sumatra, but are today confined to the most northern parts. The remaining wild Sumatran orangutan populations are almost all found in just once province right on the northern tip of the island, where they inhabit the dense and humid tropical forests. Preferring lowland valley forests as there is more of a variety of food, Sumatran orangutans can also be found at higher altitudes with a few small populations known to exist above 1,000 meters above sea level. Due to the fact that they are almost exclusively arboreal animals, the Sumatran orangutan relies heavily on the surrounding forest and has therefore been severely affected by the loss of much of it. Populations have dramatically decreased over the past century, mainly due to habitat loss in the form of deforestation for logging and to clear land for palm oil plantations.

Sumatran Orangutan Behaviour and Lifestyle

The Sumatran orangutan leads a very solitary lifestyle, moving slowly through the trees during the day in search of food. Sumatran orangutans spend up to 60% of their time foraging for and eating food and although they are known to occupy large home ranges, they rarely travel more than half a mile a day. At night, the Sumatran orangutan builds a nest high in the canopy by folding branches over where it sleeps during the night. Sumatran orangutans are not greatly territorial and are known to loosely share their home ranges with other individuals and can even be found feeding in the company of one another around particularly abundant fruit trees. Males though stake their claim on their home by emitting long-calls, which are deep calls that come from their throat poach and echo through the surrounding forest to both attract females to mate with and to warn off potential rivals.

Sumatran Orangutan Reproduction and Life Cycle

After a gestation period that last for around nine months, the female Sumatran orangutan constructs a new nest in the tree top where she gives birth to a single infant. The young Sumatran orangutan clings onto its mother’s hair for safety and never leaves her side for the first few years. Although Sumatran orangutan infants are often weaned by the time they are three years old, they will not leave their mother for another few more years at least as she teaches her young special skills for surviving in the forest. Sumatran orangutan breed more slowly than any other primate with females having a maximum of three young during their whole life, which means that in areas affected by both hunting and habitat loss populations take a very long time to then recover.

Sumatran Orangutan Diet and Prey

The Sumatran orangutan is an omnivorous animal meaning that is forages for and eats both plant matter and other animals in order to survive. However, the majority of the Sumatran orangutan’s diet is made up of fruits that are picked from the surrounding trees. The orangutan is recognized as one of the smartest animals in the world. The intelligence of the Sumatran orangutan is obvious in these situations as they are known to make a mental map of their surrounding jungle patch and are therefore able to know not only where the fruit trees are, but also when their fruits will ripen. Along with consuming both ripe and unripe fruits which are easily peeled using their agile and nimble fingers, Sumatran orangutan also eat a variety of other plant matter such as fresh buds and shoots along with insects, eggs and small vertebrates on occasion. Sumatran orangutans get the majority of their liquid from the vast amount of fruit that they eat but are also known to drink from water sources, collecting it in their cupped hands.

Sumatran Orangutan Predators and Threats

Historically Sumatran orangutans would have been threatened by numerous predators on the forest floor and have therefore evolved to exist almost only high in the trees. The most prolific natural predator of the Sumatran orangutan is the Sumatran tiger but their numbers have also declined drastically across the island due to hunting and habitat loss. Since their arrival in Indonesia, modern humans have hunted the Sumatran orangutan, killing the parent and capturing the young to sell into the exotic pet trade. Although hunting has devastated populations in certain areas, it is the loss of vast areas of their unique natural habitats that has been the biggest threat to Sumatran orangutans and because of their slow-developing nature, has meant that populations are really struggling to recover.

Sumatran Orangutan Interesting Facts and Features

The Sumatran orangutan (along with the Bornean orangutan and the Tapanuli orangutan) is one of humans’ closest living relatives and we in fact share 96.4% of our DNA with them. Sumatran orangutan are in fact so man-like in both their appearance and behaviors that their native Malaysian name Orang Hutan literally means “Person of the Forest.” Although all three orangutan species are very solitary primates, the Sumatran orangutan is actually more sociable than its slightly larger cousin in Borneo as they are seen more often in family groups and gathering in areas where there is food or fresh water in abundance. Like a number of other great apes, Sumatran orangutan are highly intelligent animals that are known to use tools in the wild including using sticks for extracting honey and putting leaves on their hands and feet to protect them in thorny vegetation. The exact skills seem to be dependent on the individual population suggesting skills are taught to young rather than being inherited.

Sumatran Orangutan Relationship with Humans

orangutans would have once been found throughout south-east Asia but are today confined to just two islands in Indonesia. This can only have been caused by increasing levels of human activity throughout their vast historical range, and has led to the extinction of the orangutan in numerous regions. Over the past century in particular, the capture of young Sumatran orangutans to be sold either to zoos or into the exotic pet trade has led to drastic population declines particularly as this often results in the death of the mother who trying to protect her infant. Deforestation has also obliterated populations throughout both Sumatra and Borneo from logging to collect the rare, tropical timbers and also to clear vast areas of ancient forest and peat-swamps to make way for the increasing number of palm oil plantations.

Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Status and Life Today

Today, the Sumatran orangutan has been listed by the IUCN as an animal that is Critically Endangered in its natural environment and therefore faces extinction in the wild in the near future if the situation progresses as it is. Although forest clearance in south-east Asia did appear to be slowing down, the increasingly levels of demand for both tropical timber and cheap palm oil seem to have accelerated the situation once again. These activities are often conducted illegally and in areas where the last remaining Sumatran orangutans exist. It is estimated that there has been an 80% decline in Sumatran orangutan population numbers in the past 75 years with as few as between 3,000 and 5,000 individuals thought to be left in the wild.

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Sumatran Orangutan FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Sumatran Orang-utans herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Sumatran Orang-utans are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What class do Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the class Mammalia.

What phylum to Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the phylum Chordata.

What family do Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the family Hominidae.

What order do Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the order Primates.

What type of covering do Sumatran Orang-utans have?

Sumatran Orang-utans are covered in Hair.

What genus do Sumatran Orang-utans belong to?

Sumatran Orang-utans belong to the genus Pongo.

Where do Sumatran Orang-utans live?

Sumatran Orang-utans live in northern Sumatra.

In what type of habitat do Sumatran Orang-utans live?

Sumatran Orang-utans live in dense, tropical forests.

What are some predators of Sumatran Orang-utans?

Predators of Sumatran Orang-utans include Sumatran tigers and humans.

How many babies do Sumatran Orang-utans have?

The average number of babies a Sumatran Orang-utan has is 1.

What is an interesting fact about Sumatran Orang-utans?

Sumatran Orang-utans are known to make mental maps of the forest!

What is the scientific name for the Sumatran Orang-utan?

The scientific name for the Sumatran Orang-utan is Pongo abelii.

What is the lifespan of a Sumatran Orang-utan?

Sumatran Orang-utans can live for 30 to 40 years.

How many species of Sumatran Orang-utan are there?

There is 1 species of Sumatran Orang-utan.

What is the biggest threat to the Sumatran Orang-utan?

The biggest threats to the Sumatran Orang-utan are hunting and habitat loss.

What is another name for the Sumatran Orang-utan?

The Sumatran Orang-utan is also called the red ape or forest person.

How many Sumatran Orang-utans are left in the world?

There are 4,000 Sumatran Orang-utans left in the world.

How fast is a Sumatran Orang-utan?

A Sumatran Orang-utan can travel at speeds of up to 2.7 miles per hour.

How to say Sumatran Orangutan in ...
Orangutan de Sumatra
Sumatran Orangutan
Pongo abelii
Orangutan Sumatra
Pongo abelii
Sumatraanse orang-oetan
Orangutan sumatrzański

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  9. Sumatran Orang-utan Information / Accessed July 13, 2010