THE CITY OF EL PASO, TEXAS Home Government Residents Business Visitors Departments Online Services Meetings Search THE CITY OF EL PASO, TEXAS -
« back to Asia
Sumatran Orangutan

Scientific Name:
Pongo pygmaeus abelii

Critically Endangered

Island of Sumatra, Republic of Indonesia

Primary forests from sea level to an elevation.

primarily wild fruits, figs, vegetation, mineral soil, insects, In the Zoo- leaf eater pellets, canned primate diet, fruit, vegetables.

An arm-span of almost 8 ft (2.4 m) is possible. Males stand up to 5 ft (1.6 m) tall and females may reach 4 ft (1.3 m) in height.

Males weight 99-220 lbs (45-100 kg) and females 66-110 (30-50 kg).

One young, rarely two, is born after a 228-279 day gestation period. Young cling to their mothers' abdomens for about 1 year and may still be observed riding on her at 2.5 years. Young are completely weaned at 2-4 years and reach sexual maturity at 7-10 years. Males can reproduce at this age, but do not reach physical and social maturity until 13-15 years.

Captive longevity is 30-50 years. Wild orangutans may live up to 35 years.

General Description:
A dark rufous or reddish brown hairy coat is rather thin and shaggy. Mature males develop facial pads made of subcutaneous fat. The fur may be sparse and short or very long and corded.

Isolated populations survive in the wild on the island of Sumatra, Republic of Indonesia.

One of the most striking aspects of orangutan behavior is their ability to focus. One adult male in the wild was observed spending over 100 minutes without a break taking apart the mature stems of a tree in order to get at the pith (From The Octopus and the Orangutan, Eugene Linden, Dutton, 2002). Learning from one orangutan to another is oftentimes a regional behavior passed on from one individual to the next. Over most of the orangutan's range in Sumatra orangutans ignore the Neesia fruit, but in the northern part of its range orangutans have discovered how to open them by ramming a piece of wood into a crack and forcing the husk apart.

Orangutan means "man of the forest." They climb and walk through large trees, swinging from branch to branch. They may also move along the ground on all fours, with the hands, clenched to walk on their fists. The strength of the animals is in their arms and hands, not their legs. Generally solitary, adults may associate temporarily with immature animals, females may stay with females for a few days and males and females come together for mating. Captive orangutans use sticks for many things: digging, fighting, prying, eating and scratching. Some animals even work to untie ropes and nuts and bolts.

Did you know? There are two subspecies of orangutans still surviving in Asia today only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The Sumatran is the rarest. The zoo has two Sumatran orangutans in the Asia section. Each subspecies is very different in looks and behavior. Orangutans are endangered due to fragmentation of their natural habitat loss. In the last 20 years orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia have lost 80% of their habitat. Since 1990 the wild population has decreased by up to 50%. There may now be as few as only 14,000 animals left of two subspecies across the entire region. According to the UN over $25 million is urgently needed to reduce the threat of extinction to orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos.

In 2011 an El Paso Zoo employee traveled to Malaysia and Indonesia to attend an international conference on the palm oil crisis and to get a first hand look at what is happening to orangutan habitat. The trip was chronicled in a blog.

Artist in Residence at the El Paso Zoo: Ibu, our female Sumatran Orangutan is an artist. Her work has been featured in the book Fur in my Paint - Hardcover (Aug. 1, 2009) by Tifane Grace available on

She loves to taste as well as wear the paint as she works on her latest creation. She likes for the trainer/keeper to paint her nails with the paint first. A variety of different colors has to be offered to her. She will select only the colors she likes for the painting even if you rotate the colors, she will almost always choose the colors she really likes and will stick to them until she finishes her creation. Her favorite colors are red and purple. She paints like a mad woman when she is offered these two colors. If she is not in the mood to paint, she will throw the paint and brush back at her trainer/keeper. She's a true artist because she needs to be inspired to paint. She seems to like to paint on big canvass instead of the smaller ones. With the big canvass, she will really get into her paintings because of all the space she has to paint on.

Ibu lives with her new male companion, Butch, who came here from the Cincinati Zoo in March of 2011. It is hoped that Ibu and Butch will have a baby someday. For those who remember her old friend, Henry, he now lives in Cincinati.


Tour The Zoo

View Larger Map

El Paso's Zoo Mission
Our mission is to celebrate the value of animals and natural resources and to create opportunities for people to rediscover their connection to nature.