‘Orang-hutan’ means ‘person of the forest’, and this term was originally used to refer to forest dwelling humans as well as their shaggy, branch swinging counterparts, who share over 96 percent of our DNA. Their excitable “longcalls” resonate around the canopy, drawing eyes to rust red fur amid the leafy treetops.
Orangutans are only endemic to the far flung islands of Borneo and Sumatra, yet each year, thousands make the pilgrimage here to see the dwindling numbers that remain, despite long haul flights, high costs and the fact that interaction is not permitted. The lure of seeing something so unique and intelligent – which may cease to exist within a few decades – is powerful, and each visit to a sanctuary, rehabilitation center or remaining tract of virgin rainforest supports the conservation of these creatures for future generations.
It's not hard to see why the orangutan was anthropomorphised so – these long-limbed apes are wise old men with grizzled brows and groomed, auburn beards.
The isolated forests still shelter a marvellous menagerie, including proboscis monkeys, hornbills, slow lorises and pygmy elephants, so tracking orangutans reveals a whole, wonderful world of weird wildlife. Read our orangutan watching guide to find out more.