How well do you know the orangutan?

Orangutans have many interesting quirks. Here are 10 facts about one of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom – where you can learn about their talent for engineering, what makes an orangutan attractive to a mate and what everyday household item they love to eat!


I’m Richard, a forests campaigner here at Greenpeace. I joined the forests team back in 2013, and since then I’ve learnt so many interesting and surprising things about these amazing animals while trying to protect them. Here are my 10 favourite orangutan facts:

1. Orangutans are ticklish

There are two kinds of ticklish. There’s the gentle kind that feels itchy and the kind that makes you laugh uncontrollably. Many animals are the first kind of ticklish – it’s an evolutionary behaviour that helps them ward off potentially dangerous animals and insects. But only very few animals are the second kind of ticklish. In fact, it seems to be just us humans and our very closest primate relatives, including the orangutans.

Two orangutans in a tree, one rubbing the other's head

2. Orangutans’ arms can be longer than you are tall

Orangutans’ arms can grow to a reach of seven feet. To put that figure in perspective, think about the height of the tallest person you know – then add a foot or so onto them.

Orangutan mother outstretched between trees with small baby clinging to her

3. Orangutans share 97% of their DNA with humans

This makes them one our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. Obvious similarities can be seen in hands, feet and faces. Orangutans also have 32 teeth – just like us. They smile and laugh – just like us.

Orangutan closeup, looking pensive with its hand under its chin

4. Orangutans have the best daily routine ever

A wild orangutan’s daily routine looks like this: wake up, eat, take a relaxing nap, play, eat again, sleep. Okay, this isn’t so much an interesting fact for you as it is a wish list for me.

5. Orangutans have the closest relationship between mother and young of any non-human mammal

As infants, orangutans are completely inseparable from their mothers. Mother orangutans carry their offspring around for the first five years. They suckle them until they’re six or seven. And they sleep together in the same nest every night until they’re at least eight years old. Other than humans, no other animals exhibit as strong a bond between mother and child.

A mother with her baby orangutan feeding at her breast

6. For female orangutans, there’s nothing sexier in a male than big cheek pads

Mature male orangutans have large flappy cheek-pads, known as flanges. The bigger a male’s cheek pads, the more attractive a female will find him.

Big cheeked orangutan male

7. Orangutans are talented engineers

According to researchers, orangutans show remarkably advanced engineering skills when building nests. They have an excellent understanding of the structural properties of branches, using thick branches to weave a strong scaffold for their nest and filling it with thin branches to construct a springy bed. What’s more, orangutan’s build a new nest every single day and they have their nest-building speed down to a very neat five or six minutes.

8. Orangutans have opposable thumbs and big toes

Like us, orangutans have opposable thumbs. But they also have opposable big toes which allow them to swing effortlessly from the tallest trees in the rainforest.

Orangutan reaching out a hand with visible thumbs to a baby on another branch

9. Orangutans love the taste of soap

Not only do they love durian, the smelliest fruit I’ve ever come across, but they also happen to enjoy the taste of soap which, surprisingly, doesn’t upset their stomachs. Though in many ways we’re very similar to orangutans, I wouldn’t suggest trying either at home…

10. Orangutans are one of the smartest animals on the planet

Orangutans match gorillas and chimpanzees in cognitive ability tests. And believe me, they don’t put these smarts to waste. But don’t take my word for it – take David Attenborough’s.

Orangutans really are fascinating.

But, tragically, the orangutans are in serious danger. Their forest habitat is being trashed by palm oil companies greedy for quick profits.

When I first started work on the Greenpeace forest campaign back in 2013 I was really shocked to discover the impact that deforestation is having on our orangutans. Orangutans used to be really common in Indonesia. Now, experts are warning that they could be extinct within 50 years.

But it’s not all bad news. Our movement has made some really big strides to protect these incredible animals. We managed to trace palm oil companies destroying rainforests to massive brands like Procter & Gamble, Cadbury and Kellogg. And after thousands of supporters joined in, one by one these giant corporations threw up their hands – announcing new ‘no deforestation’ policies that protect forests and orangutans.

We’ll continue to make sure these companies make good on their promises, and ensure these amazing animals are protected – thanks to the help of all our supporters.

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