bout 1600, the first European travellers to return from Borneo and Sumatra brought back scary stories of wild red-haired people living in the forest. They said these wild creatures hunted women and girls from the villages and dragged then into the forest.
They called these creatures 'forest people' and anyone who knows a little Malaysian will know who they were talking about:
'orang' means 'man', and 'utan' is 'forest' in Malaysian.
In Europe, it wasn't clear for a long time exactly who, or what an orangutan was. Orangutans are extremely shy and prefer to stay away from people. So it was (and still is ) very difficult to study their behaviour. In those days, people described a little of what they saw and added to it a lot of imagination!
ince those days, much has changed. The orangutan is recognised as one of the five 'great apes' and has a Latin name
(Pongo pygmaeus). Researchers have studied its behaviour and discovered that the Asian King Kong image couldn't be farther from the truth. It is now clear that, tough the orangutan looks very imposing, he is one of the most peaceful creatures on Earth.
Thanks to modern science, today we know that the orangutan, together with the gibbon, the gorilla, the chimpanzee and the bonobo, is one of our closest relatives. Genetically and behaviourally, the orangutan is very similar to man. So much so, that the name 'man of the forest' is still fitting and still used.