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Going ape.

Eating, drinking, and being merry are all part of the day for these hairy "redheads."

Eat ...

Think about this: Orangutans (oh-RANG-uh-tans) are the only great apes that live in trees all day. So nearly everything they do has to be done while balancing and hanging on. Good thing they've got four "hands" to help!

When they're young, orangs hang on to their mother's hair. Mom carries them through their forest home, teaching them what's good to eat and what's not. Orangs spend more than half their waking hours looking for food. That's more time than you spend at school!

These lessons are just as important as yours are--and just as hard. It can take 12 years for an orangutan to learn where all the different kinds of food can be found in its forest. Along the way, it's also learning how to take care of itself (just like you).

Orang babies have a great support system: Mom. Mom feeds her baby warm milk for its first four to seven years (above).

As her baby gets older, it gets very interested in what Mom is eating. Mom makes it baby food. But she doesn't have a blender. Instead, when her baby asks for food, she uses her teeth. She chews the food and spits it out into baby's mouth (right).

Fruit is the Number One treat of orangs. They prefer durian fruit (which tastes like sweet, garlicky custard). But they'll go for any fruit they can find, including mango (left).

It takes a good memory to live on fruit in these forests. The fruit trees grow far apart, and different kinds get ripe at different times. So orangs have to remember where and when to visit each tree. That's one reason young orangs stay with their mothers for so long.


Orangutans live only on the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Much of their rainforest home has been cut down, and there are very few patches of forest left where these apes can still live. Many people are working hard to try to save the great apes and their forests. Let's hope orangs can keep hanging on!

Drink ...

Fruit is juicy, so orangs get most of the water they need from their food. But if they're still thirsty, then what? There are no faucets or drinking fountains where they live. Here are just a few of their thirst-quenching tricks.

Careful--don't spill! The orang above tips a pitcher plant leaf into its mouth. The plant's hollow leaf is full of water and sour juices.

Many orangs also lick raindrops off leaves or look for other places where rainwater collects, such as in tree holes. Sometimes they chew leaves into a spongy wad and use that to soak up water.

Here's something you won't see every day (right). Most orangs stay away from rivers and streams and almost never come down from trees. But this one swooped down to the river and scooped up a drink. It must have been really thirsty--and ready for some fun!

Say "Ahhhh!" When the rain comes down, Mom and Baby open their mouths and catch the drops (below). They also lick their hair after a rain to get water. But usually orangs don't like getting soaked. Sometimes they pick big leaves and wear them as rain hats!

Be Merry!

Sometimes orangutans just want to have fun. They swing and splash and play in lots of ways. At other times, what looks like play is just a great ape's way of surviving.

Go soak your head! That's just what this young orang is doing (above). At the very hottest time of day, the big red ape hung upside down from a vine and splashed water on its head. What a fun way to cool down!

"Wheeeeee! Swing through the trees! Cling to meeeeeeee!" Mom might be thinking (left). Orangs travel by swinging from branch to branch. Don't worry--orang babies are really good at holding on tight to their mothers' hairy bodies.

Talk about holding on! For safety, this baby orang grabs anything it can find--including Mom's nose (above). Ouch! Good thing Mom is so patient. Orang mothers keep their babies close almost all the time, feeding and protecting them from harm.
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Author:Churchman, Deborah
Publication:Ranger Rick
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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