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The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is truly great cinema. As I was watching the most recent entry, I came to wonder why there are not many orangutans. The landscape is primarily lived upon by chimps and gorillas. Is there a story-specific reason for the perceived lack of orangutans or is it just coincidental?

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    “The most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy is truly great cinema.” — The dialogue in the first one is clunky as hell. Aug 1, 2017 at 7:54
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    @PaulD.Waite are you going to deny someone of their opinion?
    – Edlothiad
    Aug 1, 2017 at 7:55
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    @Edlothiad: never! Merely save them from it. Aug 1, 2017 at 7:57
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    I don't know the reason, but the lack of orangutans is a problem that afflicts most science fiction and fantasy, the Discworld novels being a notable exception.
    – user14111
    Aug 1, 2017 at 8:44
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    It's worth pointing out that there was a dearth of orangutans in the original, 1970s series as well. that said, I believe orangutans are the most endangered of the great apes in real life, so it stands to reason.
    – Paul
    Aug 1, 2017 at 10:05

1 Answer 1

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The apes seen in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy were all present in the San Francisco area at the beginning of the series, or descended from those who were. We learn in the third film that the apes were not even aware that there were intelligent apes like them popping up elsewhere.

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, we see Caesar spreading the virus that granted the apes intelligence in three main locations:

  • Gen-Sys, a biotech company that tests on several apes.
  • The San Francisco Zoo
  • A nearby ape sanctuary

Gen-Sys tests on chimps (except for Koba), so they are the most common apes in the films. The sanctuary is predominantly bonobos and chimps, with only one gorilla and orangutan (Maurice). The zoo has more gorillas, bonobos, and chimps, but no orangutans (in real life, the San Francisco zoo also doesn't have orangutans).

So the simplest answer is that there aren't really many orangutans in the film because there were no orangutans in San Francisco at the time, except for an old abandoned circus performer. This makes sense: orangutans aren't pursued as pets and are almost never test subjects given how endangered they are.

Out-of-universe, the filmmakers likely wanted a distinctive-looking ape to serve as Caesar's chief advisor, the same reason Koba is given obvious scars. This is particularly helpful in the later films, when all the bonobos and chimps start to look alike.

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    “This is particularly helpful in the later films, when all the bonobos and chimps start to look alike.” — Dude that’s so racist against apes. We need a term for that. Maybe rapeis— nope. Aug 1, 2017 at 7:54
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    If you didn't already have this, I'd have written an answer almost identical. Orangutans are especially rare in the United States due to import restrictions that have been in place for many years, on top of their rarity in the wild (and solitary nature, which makes them less prone to capture in the wild and less fruitful in captive breeding than African apes).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 1, 2017 at 11:17
  • Was the San Francisco Zoo the zoo that Bad Ape (from War for the Planet of the Apes) came from? Aug 4, 2017 at 18:41
  • @DonatelloSwansino he came from Sierra Zoo
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 13, 2017 at 8:17

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