Orangutan history

The orangutans are the two exclusively Asian species of extant great apes. Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are currently found in only the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Classified in the genus Pongo, orangutans were considered to be one species. However, since 1996, they have been divided into two species: the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii). In addition, the Bornean species is divided into three subspecies. The orangutans are also the only surviving species of the subfamily Ponginae, which also included several other species, such as Gigantopithecus, the largest known primate. Both species had their genomes sequenced and they appear to have diverged around 400,000 years ago. Orangutans diverged from the rest of the great apes 15.7 to 19.3 million years ago (mya). Orangutans are the most arboreal of the great apes and spend most of their time in trees. Their hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of chimpanzees and gorillas. Males and females differ in size and appearance. Dominant adult males have distinctive cheek pads and produce long calls that attract females and intimidate rivals. Younger males do not have these characteristics and resemble adult females. Orangutans are the most solitary of the great apes, with social bonds occurring primarily between mothers and their dependent offspring, who stay together for the first two years. Fruit is the most important component of an orangutan's diet, however, the apes will also eat vegetation, bark, honey, insects and even bird eggs. They can live over 30 years in both the wild and captivity. Orangutans are among the most intelligent primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. The apes have been extensively studied for their learning abilities. There may even be distinctive cultures within populations. Field studies of the apes were pioneered by primatologist Birute Galdikas. Both orangutan species are considered to be Endangered, with the Sumatran orangutan being Critically Endangered. Human activities have caused severe declines in the popul tions and ranges of both species. Threats to wild orangutan populations include poaching, habitat destruction, and the illegal pet trade. Several conservation and rehabilitation organisations are dedicated to the survival of orangutans in the wild. The name "orangutan" (also written orang-utan, orang utan, orangutang, and ourang-outang) is derived from the Malay and Indonesian words orang meaning "person" and hutan meaning "forest", thus "person of the forest". Orang Hutan was originally not used to refer to apes, but to forest-dwelling humans. The Malay words used to refer specifically to the ape is maias and mawas, but it is unclear if those words refer to just orangutans, or to all apes in general. The first attestation of the word to name the Asian ape is in Jacobus Bontius' 1631 Historiae naturalis et medicae Indiae orientalis - he described that Malaysians had informed him the ape was able to talk, but preferred not to "lest he be compelled to labour". The word appeared in several German-language descriptions of Indonesian zoology in the 17th century. The likely origin of the word comes specifically from the Banjarese variety of Malay. The word was first attested in English in 1691 in the form orang-outang, and variants with -ng instead of -n as in the Malay original are found in many languages. This spelling (and pronunciation) has remained in use in English up to the present, but has come to be regarded as incorrect. The loss of "h" in Utan and the shift from n to -ng has been taken to suggest that the term entered English through Portuguese. In 1869, British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-creator of modern evolutionary theory, published his account of Malaysia's wildlife: The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise. The name of the genus, Pongo, comes from a 16th-century account by Andrew Battell, an English sailor held prisoner by the Portuguese in Angola, which describes two anthropoid "monsters" named Pongo and Engeco. He is now believed to have been describing gorillas, but in the late 18th century, all great apes were believed to be orangutans, hence Lacepede's use of Pongo for the genus.