There are fewer than 50,000 orangutans living in the wild, while as recently as 100 years ago, 230,000 orangutans inhabited the forests of Southeast Asia. Scientists recognize two different species of orangutan, one hailing from Borneo and the other from Sumatra. Approximately 41,000 Borneo orangutans remain in the wild, while only 7,500 Sumatran orangutans exist.
Bornean orangutans are listed as an endangered species, while Sumatran orangutans, which are even rarer, are considered a critically endangered species. The primary reasons that orangutans are in peril is because of habitat destruction, poaching and the illegal pet trade. Female orangutans, who give birth only once every three to five years, are the most frequent targets of hunters. When they are captured with their offspring, the offspring are sold as pets. Unfortunately, only one in four to six baby orangutans reach the marketplace alive. Logging and agricultural activities destroy the primary forests that the orangutans call home.
Orangutans are members of the great ape family along with humans, chimpanzees and gorillas. While they are not as closely related to humans as chimpanzees are, they share 96.4 percent of their DNA with humans. Orangutans get their name for their superficial resemblance to humans; “orangutan” is the Malay word for “person of the forest.”