Orangutans are one of the five great ape species and are found only in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra. Considering their small range, you may wonder what predators they face in their natural environment. How do orangutans protect themselves from predators, and what other threats do they face? Keep reading as we answer all of these questions.
What You'll Learn Today
Do Orangutans Have Predators?
Orangutans are relatively large primates; they can grow nearly four and a half feet tall and up to 285 pounds. Females are generally smaller, rarely exceeding about 82 pounds.
Though not as large or powerful as gorillas, orangutans are still large enough that they don’t have many predators in the wild. The only predators they routinely have to worry about are Sumatran tigers and clouded leopards.
Young orangutans are generally more at risk than adults and may face additional predators such as pythons and wild dogs. However, most young orangutans stay with their mother for the first several years of their life, until they are old enough and large enough to protect themselves.
Some sources would argue that humans are also predators of orangutans. This can be true in the case of illegal poaching, as well as the fact that many orangutans are killed indirectly through deforestation.
How Do Orangutans Protect Themselves?
Orangutans learn to be wary of predators from their mothers or, in the case of the following video, their adopted caretakers. Watch as a group of young orangutans in “jungle school” learn about avoiding predators:
Though orangutans have an instinctive wariness toward the unfamiliar, as seen in the video, they are not born with the knowledge of which animals are to be avoided. They must be taught how to protect themselves.
Orangutans don’t often come in contact with predators, especially in Sumatra, where their main predator is the tiger. Orangutans generally stick to forested areas, whereas tigers are more terrestrial animals.
However, in Borneo, they face additional threats such as clouded leopards, pythons, and wild dogs.
In both Borneo and Sumatra, an orangutan’s primary defense against predators is to avoid them in the first place. If a predator is spotted, the orangutan will retreat into the tree branches and attempt to avoid being seen.
Orangutans are semi-solitary, but groups of females and juveniles often live and travel together for periods of time. If a member of the group sees a predator, they may issue a loud vocal warning to alert the other members of the group to flee or hide.
If they cannot flee from the danger, orangutans may attempt to scare off predators by throwing rocks or sticks at them. However, this is rarely effective.
What Other Threats Do Orangutans Face?
Orangutans are endangered, and not just because of the predators they face. In fact, they are in far greater danger from threats such as deforestation, poaching, and illegal pet trade than they are from predators.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these threats.
Much of orangutans’ natural habitat is being destroyed through deforestation. With large areas of their native rainforests being removed, orangutans lose both their homes and their food sources, leaving them vulnerable.
Deforestation comes in a couple of forms: illegal logging and mass clearing for palm tree plantations.
Illegal logging is when people go into protected areas and cut down trees. This may be done for a variety of reasons, but personal financial gain is usually at the helm.
Far larger areas of rainforest are routinely cleared to make way for palm plantations. Palm oil and fruit are in high demand throughout the world, and palm tree forests are largely taking over areas of natural forest in tropical regions throughout the world, threatening the many forms of wildlife that call these areas home.
Hunting orangutans for any reason is illegal, but they are still sometimes poached for their meat, fur, personal trophies, and even for use in making medicine.
Orangutans generally live deep within their rainforest habitats, so they are not the easiest animals to find and hunt. Still, enough orangutans are poached on a regular basis that this practice continues to diminish their numbers and threaten the species as a whole.
Finally, the illegal pet trade also continually proves a threat to orangutans. This trade involves capturing rare or exotic species of animals and selling them for high prices on the black market.
Because orangutans are so rare and can be challenging to find in the wild, they are seen as a particularly prized capture. But the treatment of animals captured for the pet trade is often horrific.
Animals are abused, neglected, and injured. They often die from poor treatment before they are ever sold.
Fortunately, organizations throughout the world are making an effort to raise awareness and put an end to such practices as the pet trade, illegal poaching, and deforestation. What’s more, efforts are being made to preserve orangutans and their habitats, with the hope of gradually increasing their numbers.
Orangutans are large animals with only a few predators, such as leopards, tigers, pythons, and wild dogs. They learn from their mothers to protect themselves from these threats by retreating and avoiding them. Orangutans face a far greater threat from humans that poach them, capture them for the pet trade, and destroy their natural environments; thus, humans are sometimes considered predators to orangutans as well.