are the largest tree living creature on earth. They also have the
longest inter-birth interval of any land living animal, producing a
single infant only once every 8 or 9 years. A female maybe only get
a chance to raise 4 or 5 babies in her lifetime. Today there are
only app. 6.600 wild Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) left. These
6.600 are fragmented into at least 10 smaller sub-populations, all
of them in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. There are app.
40.000 Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) left, all on Borneo. It
is since decades by Indonesian law forbidden to capture, kill, keep
or trade orangutans. Unfortunately the law enforcement is
inadequate. Ironically, 70% of all confiscated orangutans so far
were kept by government officials and members of police and
military. Most orangutans in captivity are also kept under very bad
The orangutans were once living in almost all of Southeast Asia,
between South China and Java. Today, however, they are only left in
Borneo and Sumatra. 90% of the total orangutan population lives
within the borders of Indonesia. Habitat loss and illegal pet trade
seriously threaten their existence. The orangutan has, as a species,
recently been re-classified. The two former sub-species are now
considered to be two distinct species of orangutans. There are
several sub-species. The densest area for orangutans is in Aceh
Singkil, in the part of Leuser National Park called Singkil Barat.
In this area the orangutans use tools (sticks) to open fruits, a
sign of basic culture. The word orangutan is from the Malay
(Indonesian) Orang (Person) and Hutan (Forest). The Indonesian word
is orang hutan. In many areas in Sumatra orangutan is also called
Mawas. In some areas, like in South Tapanuli, the word orang hutan
is often confused with other types of monkeys.
In 1973 Regina Frey and Monica Borner from Switzerland supported by
Frankfurt Zoological Society and WWF started an orangutan
rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang. The idea was to reduce the
number of orangutans killed and captured by returning captured
orangutans back to nature, or to move them from deforested areas. In
1980 the Indonesian Forestry Ministry took over. The operation was
partly financed by entrance fees.
Today this activity in Bukit Lawang has stopped, as the risks of
introducing diseases into the original orangutan population is too
high. Instead the orangutans are since 2002 rehabilitated in a new
modern quarantine facility at a different location not so far from
Medan. Note that that is is a quarantine and strictly off-limits to
others than directly involved staff. All new orangutan arrivals stay
a minimum of 30 days in quarantine where they undergo full medical
checks and rehabilitation. Orangutans share 97% of human DNA and can
catch and pass on the same illnesses and diseases that people can.
In addition to medical checks all the orangutans are also
photographed, fingerprinted, tattooed with a number and
micro-chipped. This is in order to identify and monitor the released
After quarantine the orangutans are moved to socialization cages
where they will meet and learn to interact with other orangutans.
They will with other words learn how to behave as an orangutan. This
process is also carefully monitored. Finally, rehabilitated
orangutans are released in either the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park
in Jambi in southern Sumatra, or in northern part of Aceh. These two
areas have no former recent orangutan population.
This rehabilitation and also other activities such as habitat
conservation is carried out by Paneco's Sumatran Orangutan
Conservation Programme (SOCP) together with Yayasan Sistem Lestari
(YEL), Frankfurt Zoological Society, and the Indonesian Government’s
Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation.
Visit the SOCP website for more information: