Oran­gutan Protection 

Oran­gutans are the largest tree-dwel­lers on the Earth. Even more than all other primates, they are adapted to a life in the trees. If the rain­fo­rest is destroyed, the oran­gutans lose their primary food source and their natural habitat. BOS protects the oran­gutans and their home, the rain­fo­rest of Borneo.

Asia’s only great apes

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More Infor­ma­tion

The oran­gutan — “The man of the forest”

In Indo­ne­sian, “orang” means person or man and “hutan” means forest — so the oran­gutan is a “forest man” or “man of the woods”. Like gorillas, chim­pan­zees, bonobos and we humans, it belongs to the species of the great apes. We humans share 97% of the same DNA with the oran­gutan. That’s why we are so similar. Just like us, oran­gutans have feelings, they commu­ni­cate, play and develop and use tools extre­mely skillfully. Their fur is orange-red to reddish-brown.

Orang-Utan Mutter mit Baby im Wald

Oran­gutans Chanel & Charlie in the  rainforest

Orang-Utan Hand

Oran­gutan hand

They live only in the lowland rain­fo­rests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia. A distinc­tion is made between the Bornean oran­gutan (Pongo Pygmaeus), the Suma­tran oran­gutan (latin: Pongo Abelii) and the Tapa­nuli oran­gutan (latin: Pongo Tapa­nu­li­ensis). All three species are in serious danger of extinc­tion. Only about 57,000 Bornean oran­gutans, about 14,000 Suma­tran oran­gutans and 800 Tapa­nuli oran­gutans still live in their natural habitat.

An adult male can grow up to 1.5 meters tall and weigh up to 120 kg. Females weigh between 30 and 45 kg. The Suma­tran oran­gutan is gene­rally a bit lighter and more petite than its Borneo rela­tive. With an arm span of up to 2.2 meters, long fingers, and a thumb that can grip excel­lently, oran­gutans are superbly suited for a life in the tree­tops. Nevert­heless, young oran­gutans must first learn to climb safely and effec­tively — just as we humans must learn how to walk.

How do oran­gutans live?

Oran­gutans live semi-soli­tary lives: most of the time they are wande­ring alone through the forest. Only a mother and her child stay toge­ther for up to eight years. Yet on occa­sion, they also spend time with other members of their species. For example, at popular fruit trees or to play and hang out toge­ther.
In the evening, they build a slee­ping nest of bran­ches and leaves high up in the trees. Coun­ting such nests, usually used only once, is an important and helpful tool for oran­gutan moni­to­ring in the wild.

The terri­tory of a domi­nant male — reco­gnizable by his prono­unced cheek bulges — covers the terri­to­ries of several females. The oran­gutan male shows his domi­nance with a call that can be heard from far away, the so-called “long call”.

In the wild, oran­gutans can achieve an age of 35 to 40 years, but can also grow even older than that. At the age of ten to 15 years, females become mothers for the first time. Mother and child stay toge­ther for six to eight years. During this time, the offspring learns what they need to know to survive in the rain­fo­rest: safe clim­bing, finding the right food and buil­ding slee­ping nests are just as much a part of this as forming social bonds with their fellow oran­gutans and also which dangers to avoid in the jungle.

What are oran­gutans threa­tened by?

Today, the popu­la­tion of Bornean oran­gutans is esti­mated at about 57,000 animals. Compared to the popu­la­tion in the year 1973 of 288,500 oran­gutans, this means a decline of 80% in less than 50 years.
The grea­test threat to oran­gutans is the destruc­tion of their natural habitat.
In the 1980s, about 75% of Borneo’s was still covered by pris­tine forest. Today, barely around 50% remains.
Palm oil plan­ta­tions and coal mining are the grea­test drivers of rain­fo­rest destruc­tion. But also the pulp and paper industry and the trade with tropical woods lead to massive defo­re­sta­tion and destroy the rain­fo­rest. Oil palm plan­ta­tions cover at least 14 million hectares in Indo­nesia. There are plans to expand the area under palm oil culti­va­tion to 20 million hectares.

Angeketteter Orang-Utan

Star­ving oran­gutans are often forced to wander into  plantations

Zwei Orang-Utans in einem Holzkäfig

Oran­gutan babies are held ille­gally in a cage

Orang-Utan Jelapat kurz vor seiner Befreiung

Oran­gutan baby short before it has been rescued by BKSDA and BOSF team

Addi­tio­nally, the expan­sion of human sett­le­ments and cities, seasonal forest fires and the effects of climate change are leading to the destruc­tion of forest areas.

As a result, the habitat for oran­gutans is beco­ming incre­asingly scarce. This leads to more and more conflicts between humans and animals when oran­gutans come to gardens or plan­ta­tions in search of food. In many cases, this ends deadly for the oran­gutan. All too often, baby oran­gutans become orphans and victims of the illegal wild­life trade.

Oran­gutan conser­va­tion and protection

BOS supports the Indo­ne­sian conser­va­tion autho­rity BKSDA in rescuing oran­gutans from illegal pet farming, palm oil plan­ta­tions or other emer­gen­cies. In two BOS rescue centers on Borneo, the injured, sick and orphaned oran­gutans are taken in and given medical care by vete­ri­na­rians in our clinics. Our “baby­sit­ters” take care of the often severely trau­ma­tized orphans.



Orang-Utan-Männchen Papa

Some male oran­gutans develop fatty tissue on both sides of their face — known as flanges

Babysitterin mit Orang-Utans in der Waldschule

Baby­sit­ters are trai­ning young oran­gutans in the forest school.

Oran­gutan Rehabilitation

When an oran­gutan enters one of BOSF reha­bi­li­ta­tion centers, they are imme­dia­tely assessed and treated by our team of vete­ri­na­rians then quaran­tined before being placed into the appro­priate stage of the reha­bi­li­ta­tion process. The youn­gest oran­gutans join the nursery group while the juve­niles are placed in a forest school. On their journey through forest school, the young orphans are taught the skills they need to survive in the wild, all while they are stimu­lated to express natural beha­viours. The trai­ning of the oran­gutan offspring lasts up to eight years. Finally, they have to prove them­selves on one of our pre-release islands — the Forest Univer­sity. Only then, they are considered as well-prepared for release into the wild.

Oran­gutan Reintroduction

If an oran­gutan is healthy and able to survive on its own in the wild, it is released as soon as possible. For this purpose, BOS has acquired conces­sions for protected areas where the oran­gutans can live safely and in freedom.



Rescue centers & Forest schools

Rescue centers

In Borneo, BOS cares for more than 400 oran­gutans rescued from emer­gency situa­tions in two rescue centers. Here they are prepared for an inde­pen­dent life in freedom.

Forest schools

The young orphaned oran­gutans attend forest school every day at the rescue centers. Here they learn ever­y­thing they need to know, in order to survive in the rainforest.

Release & Monitoring


Since 2012, BOS has been releasing reha­bi­li­tated oran­gutans into three protected rain­fo­rest areas. Nearly 500 forest people have already been able to start their new wild lives in Kehje Sewen, Bukit Batikap and Bukit Baka Bukit Raya.


We do not abandon the oran­gutans after their release. Moni­to­ring teams are constantly on the move in the remote reha­bi­li­ta­tion forests and keep an eye on the new wild animals.

Make a dona­tion for the orangutans

Make a one-time donation

Oran­gutans need our help! With your dona­tion for the oran­gutans you accom­pany and support an oran­gutan on its journey until its release into the wild.

Orang-Utan-Retter werden

Frequently Asked Questions

Where does the oran­gutan live?

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A distinc­tion is made between the Bornean oran­gutan (latin:Pongo Pygmaeus), the Suma­tran oran­gutan (Latin:Pongo Abelii) and the Tapa­nuli oran­gutan (Latin: Pongo Tapa­nu­li­ensis). The Bornean oran­gutan lives on the island of Borneo in the Malay Archi­pe­lago.
In Borneo, the species is divided into three gene­ti­cally distinct subspe­cies: Pongo Pygmaeus Morio in East Kali­mantan, Indo­nesia and Sabah, Malaysia; Pongo Pygmaeus in West Kali­mantan, Indo­nesia and Sarawak, Malaysia; and Pongo Pygmaeus Wurmbii in Central and West Kali­mantan, Indo­nesia. While the oran­gutan was once wide­spread on the island, the species’ range is now limited and frag­mented into an esti­mated 42 popu­la­tions.
Their range is natu­rally limited by alti­tude, as oran­gutans gene­rally live below 500 m above sea level. Today’s popu­la­tion frag­men­ta­tion of oran­gutans is not due to normal eleva­tion limi­ta­tions, but rather to the impact actions of humans have had. Humans have encroa­ched on many of the orangutan’s natural habi­tats, comple­tely defo­res­ting or destroying the habi­tats, which also affects the overall health of the ecosys­tems.
Oran­gutans are found in a variety of habi­tats, from brackish mangrove forests to lime­s­tone forests, but they most commonly live in what are known as tropical lowland forests. However, this term encom­passes a variety of diffe­rent forest types, of which the two most important for oran­gutans are dry Dipte­ro­car­paceae forests and swamp forests.
Dipte­ro­car­paceae forests are what most people imagine when they think of the “jungles of Borneo.” The predo­mi­nant tree species in the forests are from the Dipte­ro­car­paceae family (winged fruit family). This large tree family also includes giant trees such as Meranti and Kapur. While winged fruit plants form the heart of the ecosystem — and are an inte­gral part of the orangutan’s diet — the forests are also full of other species, inclu­ding iron­wood trees, fruit trees, carni­vorous plants, count­less beetles, fish, birds and thou­sands of other animal species, from clouded leopards and pythons to shy pango­lins and pit vipers.
Borneo’s oran­gutans may also live in swamp and peat swamp forests. Although these peat swamp forests are not as species-rich as Dipte­ro­car­paceae forests, they are still an important habitat for the Bornean oran­gutan. Peat swamp forests are home to count­less specific endan­gered plant and animal species and play a key role in the global carbon and hydro­logic cycles.
Every oran­gutan forest is teeming with crea­tures that may not be as “charis­matic” as oran­gutans, but are just as important to our global ecosystem. That’s why we need to protect oran­gutans, their neigh­bors, and their natural habitat. Because oran­gutan protec­tion means rain­fo­rest protec­tion and equals climate protection.

How do oran­gutans spend the day?

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Oran­gutans spend up to 60% of their time awake sear­ching for and eating food. Depen­ding on the season and loca­tion, this can be an easy or more diffi­cult task. About ten percent of their day is spent wande­ring through the jungle, often in search of new food sources. The remai­ning 30% of their time is spent in a variety of acti­vi­ties, from resting and clea­ning to playing and other social activities.

What do oran­gutans eat?

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Oran­gutans are considered omni­vores, meaning they eat both plant and animal foods, but the majo­rity of their diet consists of plants. Oran­gutans have an extre­mely broad diet. More than 2,000 diffe­rent plant species are part of their diet. Fruits are their favo­rite, but they also eat leaf shoots, leaves, bark, flowers, mush­rooms, the pith of bran­ches, insects, honey, and occa­sio­nally eggs. There are rare reports of oran­gutans even eating small mammals.

Do oran­gutans have enemies?

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Yes, the most dange­rous one is the human! Other preda­tors that can be dange­rous to them are the clouded leopard, Suma­tran tiger, croco­diles and snakes.

Why is the oran­gutan threa­tened with extinction?

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First, because we are destroying its home, the rain­fo­rest! Second, they repro­duce very slowly, because in the wild a female usually gives birth to a baby only every eight years. Third, people hunt oran­gutans to capture young animals for the illegal wild­life trade.

How can I protect orangutans?

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Avoid non-sustain­ably certi­fied palm oil. Pay atten­tion to the ingre­dient list when buying food. Palm oil or palm fat is found in many super­market products: in ready meals, sweets, marga­rine, bread spreads, candles, cosme­tics, clea­ning products and deter­gents. Around 85% of palm oil comes from Indo­nesia and Malaysia. Also approach your local retailers and manu­fac­tu­rers about buying only products from certi­fied palm oil culti­va­tion. The demand still deter­mines the supply.
Most palm oil imported into the EU ends up in biodiesel. So not driving helps the oran­gutans, too.
Use only recy­cled paper. Only buy colo­ring books, exer­cise books, toilet paper and other paper products made from 100% recy­cled paper (reco­gnizable by the “Blue Angel” seal). Because no rain­fo­rest has to be cleared for it.
Do not buy tropical wood. When buying furni­ture, picture frames and other products made of wood always ask where the wood comes from. If the annual rings are missing, it may be tropical wood.


Where are rescued oran­gutans being sheltered?

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Rescued oran­gutans are handed over by the Indo­ne­sian Nature Conser­va­tion Autho­rity (BKSDA) to orga­niza­tions such as Borneo Oran­gutan Survival Foun­da­tion or Inter­na­tional Animal Rescue, which then take over the reha­bi­li­ta­tion process for the rescued animals.

Who protects orangutans?

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The oran­gutan is protected under Indo­ne­sian law, and the Indo­ne­sian state is respon­sible for enfor­cing this law. Other important parties are the Indo­ne­sian Nature Conser­va­tion Autho­rity (BKSDA), non-govern­mental oran­gutan conser­va­tion orga­niza­tions and all supporters around the world who make the rescue, reha­bi­li­ta­tion, rein­tro­duc­tion and moni­to­ring work possible with their donations.

How are the oran­gutans protected after they are released into the wild?

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BOS releases oran­gutans into safe sanc­tua­ries and national parks. Each oran­gutan is implanted with a trans­ponder prior to release, which can be used to track them during their first few months in the rain­fo­rest. Our post-moni­to­ring teams are constantly touring the rein­tro­duc­tion areas and moni­to­ring the “New Wild Ones”. However, it some­times happens that animals leave the rein­tro­duc­tion forests and thus the protected rain­fo­rest areas. BOS conducts educa­tion campaigns among the local popu­la­tion to raise aware­ness about the importance and protected status of oran­gutans. In addi­tion, we provide some options for action when conflicts arise between oran­gutans and humans — for example, because in search of food, the animals enter areas managed by humans. Some­times our teams have to work with the Indo­ne­sian Nature Conser­va­tion Autho­rity (BKSDA) to relo­cate oran­gutans in order to mini­mize such conflicts (mainly invol­ving animals not released by us).

Will the wild oran­gutan popu­la­tion grow again?

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That is the main goal of our work. However, it is not an easy task. Female oran­gutans can only become pregnant about every eight years. Ther­e­fore, it is essen­tial that no animals are killed and that the wild animals retain their habitat.