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Baby Orangutan

Reading Time: 7 mins

Welcome, dear readers, to the fascinating world of baby orangutans! Also known as infants or juveniles, these little bundles of joy are captivating creatures who lead lives in the treetops of the lush rainforests in Borneo and Sumatra. So, buckle up, folks! We're about to delve even further into the captivating world of baby orangutans.


Birth

This tiny creature, no larger than a human baby, is born after a gestation period of about 8.5 months. It's quite an event, considering orangutans usually give birth only once every seven to eight years. When our little friend is born, he usually weighs 3-4 pounds.


First Lesson

The mother orangutan is the primary teacher, a guiding force in her baby's life. From birth, the baby orangutan holds onto its mother's body, clinging to her like a miniature backpack. This constant physical contact not only provides a sense of security but also serves as the first lesson in navigating the treetops.



Arms are longer than legs

Born in the canopy of the rainforest, these babies are natural-born climbers. Their incredibly strong hands and feet are adapted for life in the trees, and they have a grip strength that would make a gymnast jealous. It's also worth noting that they have longer arms than their legs, aiding in their arboreal acrobatics. Starting from the age of one, baby orangutans begin their daredevil acrobatics in the treetops, displaying a fearlessness that is both breathtaking and nerve-wracking for the observers.


High Intelligence

Orangutans, including the babies, are remarkably intelligent. Like human children, baby orangutans are quick to imitate the behaviors of their mothers and other adults. The complexity of the skills they learn, from utilizing tools to open fruit or scratch their backs, to constructing complex treetop nests from foliage and branches, truly sets them apart from many other species. 


Long Childhood

Another striking aspect of baby orangutans is their long dependency period. They rely on their mothers for food, transportation, and learning survival skills for up to seven years. This is the longest infant development period of any land mammal. This extended period of parental care is testament to the complexity of their learning needs, particularly their tool use and nest-building behaviors. 



Sleep Lovers

It's naptime all the time for baby orangutans. These little guys love to snooze, spending around 13 hours of their day sleeping. It's a tough job being so adorable!


DNA

These adorable little furballs are so much more like us than most people realize. You know that saying "we're all made of stardust?" Well, in the case of humans and orangutans, we might as well be from the same celestial nursery. We share a whopping 97% of our DNA with them! That's right, a baby orangutan is almost as genetically similar to us as your Aunt Millie.


Playfulness

Speaking of learning, did you know that baby orangutans exhibit a high level of curiosity and playfulness? This, in fact, is an essential part of their learning process. They have been observed using sticks as pretend tools, swinging from branches, and even engaging in playful wrestling with their peers!



Big Eyes

For starters, have you ever noticed their big, expressive eyes? Despite their small size, baby orangutans have eyes similar in size to those of adult orangutans. These large, round eyes provide excellent vision, enabling them to navigate the dense forest and recognize ripe fruits and threats from a distance. 


Instinct or Learning?

Baby orangutans aren't born with survival instincts like many other animals. Instead, they learn everything from their mothers. From figuring out which fruits are ripe to eat, to knowing the perfect leaf for shelter, it's all a part of their learning journey. This brings them closer to the characteristics of the human species.


Early Skills

Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of a baby orangutan's first year is their problem-solving ability. Whether it's figuring out how to crack open a tough fruit or use a stick to extract honey from a beehive, they exhibit signs of intelligence and ingenuity that often leave researchers amazed.



What Do They Eat?

A baby orangutan's diet is pretty much milk and fruit. They nurse from their mothers until they are about six years old and gradually begin to add fruit to their diet as they grow older. Their preferred fruits? Durians and figs. Yes, the same durians that are famous for their pungent smell! As they get older and their teeth start to sprout, they slowly begin to incorporate leaves, bark, and insects into their meals.


Kiss Squeak

Unlike humans, baby orangutans don't cry when they're hungry or uncomfortable. Instead, they produce a sound, known as a "kiss squeak", to communicate their needs to their mother. Imagine that - no midnight crying, just some cute 'kiss squeaks'.


Powerful Arms

Then there's the matter of their physical strength. Despite their tender age and seemingly delicate bodies, baby orangutans possess extraordinary power, particularly in their arms. This strength, which will continue to develop as they grow, is crucial for their arboreal lifestyle, enabling them to swing from branch to branch with astonishing agility.



Playthings

Just as human kids play with toys, orangutan youngsters have their favorite "playthings," too. These could be sticks, leaves, or even their own fur, which they'll often throw, chew, or use in creative ways, demonstrating their intelligence and natural curiosity.


Trial and Error Learning

Play also helps baby orangutans develop their problem-solving skills. When they're playing, they often encounter challenges - a branch that's out of reach, a fruit that's just a bit too far. How do they get around these hurdles? They experiment. They try different routes, different grips, different techniques. And in doing so, they're honing their problem-solving skills, one playful endeavor at a time.


Hair

Baby orangutans are born with a surprising amount of hair. Their long, woolly coat ranges in color from bright orange to a more muted reddish-brown. This hair, although thinner and softer than adults, serves a crucial purpose by providing protection and warmth in the cool rainforest canopy.


Adulthood

Finally, around the age of 15, they reach adulthood. For male orangutans, this is the stage where they develop distinguishing cheek flanges, a throat sack, and a long call. For females, it's the age they become ready to have offspring of their own. They've learned all they need to survive in the wild, and they're ready to pass it on to the next generation.



Interacting with baby orangutans: Dos and Don'ts

DO respect their space. Baby orangutans, just like human infants, need their personal space for growth and development. Even though they might seem cute and cuddly, it's important to remember they are wild animals and not pets. Always maintain a respectful distance and never attempt to touch or hold a baby orangutan.

DON'T feed them. Orangutans have a specific diet, and human food might not be suitable for them. Feeding can also disrupt their natural feeding patterns and discourage them from foraging for their own food, a key survival skill.

DO observe quietly. Watching a baby orangutan in its natural habitat is a fantastic experience. Their playful antics and curious nature can be incredibly entertaining. Remember to keep your interactions passive. Enjoy the privilege of observing them without disturbing their natural behavior.

DON'T use flash photography. Bright lights can scare or disorient the baby orangutans, and the clicking noise of the camera can also be distressing. If you wish to capture the moment, do so discreetly and without causing any discomfort to the animal.



Sources:

Galdikas, B. M. (1996). Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo. Back Bay Books.
Rijksen, H. D., & Meijaard, E. (1999). Our Vanishing Relative: The Status of Wild Orang-Utans at the Close of the Twentieth Century. Springer.
Singleton, I., Wich, S. A., Nowak, M. G., Usher, G. (2017). Pongo Pygmaeus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Delgado, R. A., Van Schaik, C. P. (2000). The Behavioral Ecology and Conservation of the Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus): A Tale of Two Islands. Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 9(5), 201-218.
Smits, L., Heriyanto, T., & Ramono, W. (1995). A new method for rehabilitation of orangutans in Indonesia: A first overview. Tropical Biodiversity, 3(2), 29-35.
Wich, S., Utami-Atmoko, S., Mitra Setia, T., Rijksen, H., Schürmann, C., Van Hooff, J., & Van Schaik, C. (2004). Life History of Wild Sumatran Orangutans (Pongo Abelii). Journal of Human Evolution, 47(6), 385-398.