Many people often refer to all primates as ‘monkeys’. This is actually a misnomer. Although chimpanzees and orangutans are both primates, they are members of two different two different family and species classifications with characteristic dissimilarities in both appearance and habitat.
All apes belong to the super-family classification Hominidae, the same as humans. Unlike man, however, they are part of the order Primates. These mammals all share certain attributes including hair (not fur); fingernails (not claws); opposable thumbs; superior intelligence due to a larger brain to body size ratio; prehensile, padded digits; binocular vision allowing for depth perception; and a keener sense of vision than smell.
Monkeys and Apes
The most noticeable difference between monkeys and apes is that monkeys have a tail and apes do not. In addition, apes live longer, are larger in size, and have a larger brain in relation to their body size.
This makes apes more intelligent than their monkey ‘cousins’. Both chimpanzees and orangutans are considered Great Apes, along with gorillas and bonobos; gibbons and siamangs belong to the Lesser Ape species.
These Great Apes make the tropical rain forests spanning Africa their native home. The largest population of chimpanzees lives in West Zaire; they have actually become extinct in other areas due to harvesting for meat and habitat destruction.
Chimps are generally anywhere from three to five feet in height and can weigh up to 200 pounds. The hair is black, although it tends to gray after the age of 20 or so.
There are only two places where orangutans can be found in the wild – the islands of Sumatra, Indonesia and Borneo, Malaysia. They live amongst the trees in the rain forest; in fact they are the largest arboreal mammal in the world. In the rain forest orangutans find a rich source for their diet of leaves, bark, insects, fruit, and flowers.
Orangs are bigger than chimps, standing anywhere from four to five feet tall and weighing in at 125 to 235 pounds or more. They are characterised by their shaggy, reddish-brown hair, hairless faces, small ears, and curling digits. Some orangutan males sport beards of white or yellow in addition to their flanges (cheek pads) and throat pouches developed in later life. The male of the species is larger than the female, as is the norm.
Both chimpanzees and orangutans contain certain features that remind humans of themselves: their expressive and hairless faces, fingers and toes, and their high degree of intelligence. This is undoubtedly why the ape exhibit at the zoo is usually the most popular.
Find out about the differences between Sumatran and Borneo orangutans and the efforts to save the orangutan.