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Are orangutans dangerous? Do they attack humans?

are orangutans dangerous, do they attack humans

Orangutans are fascinating primates to watch in the wild and are highly intelligent animals, but many people wonder if they are dangerous. Orangutans are native to Borneo and Sumatra, but sadly all three species are endangered, with populations declining due to deforestation and hunting. While orangutans can be dangerous, it is vital to understand why and how to interact with them safely.

Are orangutans dangerous?

snarling male orangutan
Snarling male orangutan.

When viewing how dangerous orangutans are based on their strength then, they are dangerous animals. They are seven times as strong as the average person and have a bite force of 575 psi. However, they are the least aggressive out of the primates and are very gentle creatures, so attacks are rare.

Do orangutans attack humans?

Orangutans are generally not aggressive towards humans and each other. The only exception is individuals who have been mistreated by people who had them as pets. When these mistreated orangutans have been reintroduced into the wild, they can remain aggressive towards humans.

How to interact with orangutans in the wild

young orangutan in tree
Young orangutan in tree.

If you ever encounter an orangutan in the wild, below is a helpful guide to ensure that your interaction with orangutans is safe for you and the animal.

  • Always keep a safe distance from an orangutan, at least 10 metres.
  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Don’t make any loud noises.
  • Always remain calm in their presence.
  • Do not approach and try to touch the orangutan.
  • When taking pictures, avoid using flash photography.
  • Respect the orangutan’s natural habitat and do not disturb their food or sleeping areas.
  • Do not leave rubbish in their environment as this can harm them and other animals.

Bornean orangutans

Bornean male orangutan
Bornean male orangutan.

The Bornean orangutan has a broader face, shorter beard, and slightly darker coloured hair than the Sumatran orangutan. 

The Bornean orangutan is separated into three subspecies:

  1. Northwest Bornean orangutans are the most threatened subspecies. 
  2. Northeast Bornean orangutans are the smallest orangutans found in Sabah and eastern Kalimantan as far as the Mahakam River.
  3. Central Bornean orangutans are the least threatened, with at least 35,000 individuals.

Sumatran orangutans

Sumatran orangutan male in Gunung Leuser national park.
Sumatran orangutan male in Gunung Leuser national park.

The Sumatran orangutan is the most arboreal of the three species. They rarely travel on the ground. Sumatran orangutans once roamed the whole island of Sumatran and south into Java. They are now only found in the north of the island. Of the nine remaining populations, only seven have a long-term future of survival.

Tapanuli orangutans

Tapanuli orangutan
Tim Laman, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tapanuli orangutans are the newest species to be discovered, but with less than 800 individuals, they are the rarest great apes. They live in the north of Sumatra. They are distinct from the other two species by behaviour and genetic differences. They are thought to have been isolated from other orangutan populations for 10,000 – 20,000 years.