One of my favourite toys (well, my children’s toys) is a baby orangutan that Anna calls Gerome. Here he is sitting on the sofa with a lovely jungle pillow. Isn’t he cute?

I think Gerome likes this pillow because it reminds him of home. Orangutans live in the rainforests of two islands in South East Asia – Borneo and Sumatra. The name orangutan comes from the Malay language, and it means “man of the forest” (orang=man and hutan=forest). The scientific name for them is Pongo pygmaeus. Perhaps we should have called Gerome Pongo instead!

Orangutans have long, strong arms that are good for swinging from branch to branch, and they live and sleep up high in the trees to stay safe from other animals that might eat them, like leopards, tigers and big python snakes.

They get quite big, around five feet tall, and weigh between 65 pounds (a small adult female) and 200 pounds (a big adult male). In the wild they live to be about 35 years old, and in a zoo they can get as old as 50 or more.

Orangutans like to eat fruit (berries and wild figs) as well as leaves, insects and birds’ eggs. They find all these things in the trees and hardly ever have to come down to the forest floor.

The fur of an orangutan is long, shaggy and reddish-brown – quite like a Highland cow! I think their fur is much thinner than the cow’s, though, because unlike the Highlands it’s very hot where they live. Female orangutans have a baby only once every 8 years or so, and the baby stays hanging onto its mum for the first year of its life. Over the next few years the young ones stay close to mum, until they are ready to strike out on their own at the age of 11 or 12.

Little orangutans like to play together, but when they grow up they are quite solitary animals. When a group of them are feeding in the same area, the young ones play but the adults ignore each other. Sometimes the males will fight over territory, but mostly they just live alone in the forest.

Did you know that orangutans are an endangered species? That means there are fewer and fewer of them in the wild, and one day they could disappear altogether! Lots of people care about orangutans and want to save them. There are organisations all over the world that look after them and raise money to help them.

One group I found is called the Sumatran Orangutan Society, and their website has lots of information about orangutans. They have a great list of ideas for kids who want to raise money for orangutan protection. HERE is their list of fun activities you can do to help orangutans and get people thinking about them.

My friend (and very talented illustrator) Hannah Shaw has told me she sponsored an orangutan from the Orangutan Appeal. Their website has lots of brilliant pictures of orangutans and more information about how you can help.

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