Tapanuli orangutan

The frizzy-haired, mustached Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered great ape on Earth

Tim Laman

Tapanuli orangutan


The frizzy-haired, mustached Tapanuli orangutan is the most endangered great ape on Earth

Population 800
83% estimated decline in the population until 2060

A critically endangered species that makes its home exclusively in South Tapanuli, situated on the vibrant and diverse Indonesian island of Sumatra.

One of the striking aspects of the Tapanuli orangutan is its physical resemblance to the Sumatran orangutan, especially when compared to the distinct features of the Bornean orangutan. The Tapanuli’s body structure and the hue of its fur bear a closer resemblance to those of its Sumatran relatives. However, their hair sets it apart – it’s noticeably more unruly, giving them a distinctly wild appearance. Their skulls are smaller, and they possess flat and broad features, contributing to their unique facial structure. Dominant males in the species are easily recognized by their bushy mustaches and large, flat cheek pads known as flanges, which indicate their maturity and status within their social hierarchy.

In terms of size, male Tapanuli orangutans are larger than females, a common trait among orangutan species. Both genders, however, share the characteristic of having beards, further emphasizing their distinctive appearance. The Tapanuli orangutan’s lifestyle is arboreal; they are predominantly tree-dwellers. This preference for a certain height is likely a strategic adaptation to avoid predators such as the Sumatran tiger, which shares its habitat.

The social structure of Tapanuli orangutans is marked by solitude. Unlike many primate species that form large social groups, Tapanuli orangutans are mostly seen alone. The only common exception to this solitary lifestyle occurs when a mother nurtures her young. This close bond between mother and offspring is crucial for the survival of the young, as it is through this relationship that they learn the essential skills needed to navigate their treetop world.


Population est.
Official estimate

Recent updates

March 2023: Residents of the Batang Toru forest in northern Sumatra have reported a higher volume of orangutan sightings on their properties and in their communities. This is believed to be a consequence of the disruption of the orangutans’ natural habitat due to the ongoing construction of a hydropower plant and dam in the area.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No