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Home » Bukit Lawang » The Endangered Sumatran Orangutan

The Endangered Sumatran Orangutan



Compared to the Borneo Orangutan, there are fewer Sumatran orangutans left in the wild. Today, only an estimated 5,000 are left roaming mostly in the northern primary tropical rainforests of Sumatra, in the Mount Leuser National Park in Aceh and North Sumatra near Lake Toba, and at the breeding grounds in the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi and in Riau. Therefore the IUCN has placed these primates in the Red list under “The World’s 25 most Endangered Species”.

Indonesia has two Orangutan species, they are the Borneo Orangutan (or pongo pygmaeus) – mostly found in the Tanjung Puting and the Sebangau National Parks in Central Kalimantan, and the Sumatran Orangutans (or pongo abelii). The two species are believed to have diverged some 400,000 years ago. 

Already since 1970, the area around Bukit Lawang at the southern part of the Leuser Park in the province of North Sumatra has been designated Orangutan conservation area, where captured primates are trained to return to the wild before being released into the jungles.  Bukit Lawang is the counterpart camp for Sumatra as Camp Leaky in Tanjung Puting is for the Borneo primate.

Situated along the Bahorok river some 86 km. from Medan, Bukit Lawang is the most accessible place to reach and see how these gentle primates are being coached to fend again for themselves in the forest.

The Sumatran Orangutan is smaller than the Borneo species, its face is thinner and longer where the Borneo orangutans are rounder, while its fur is longer and lighter red in colour.  The adult male grows to 1.2 meters tall, weighing around 90 kg, compared to the Borneon male that grows to 1.4 meters and weighs up to 100 kg. The Sumatran female grows to a maximum 90 cm. and weighs around 45 kg.

Compared to the Borneo species, the orangutans on Sumatra are more arborial, living high in trees and rarely walk on the ground, swinging instead from tree to tree. Scientists believe the reason for this is that in the forests of Sumatra there are more predators on the ground compared to Kalimantan.

The orangutans here are also more sociable, living in groups.  The baby orangutan stays with its mother for three years, clasping around her waist.

At Bukit Lawang, new arrivals are put in quarantine for 3 to 4 months to prevent passing infectious diseases to the wild population. Then they are gradually weaned to live in the wild, practicing to swing from tree to trees. At this time they are fed with a monotonous diet of bananas, placed on a high platform, to urge them to look for their own preferred food. As the animals venture into the jungle, they return less frequently until they finally disappear into Sumatra’s primary tropical rainforests. 

Please note that although Bukit Lawang is the easiest accessible place to meet the orangutans in the wild, those wishing to go there should be prepared to wade through mud and cross rivers into the jungle.

Visitors must also be in possession of a permit from the Nature Conservation Office.

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The Endangered Sumatran Orangutan

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