5 Fascinating Facts About Sumatra’s Flora and Fauna

October 22, 2014 Daniel Sendecki

Fabled for its rainforests and wildlife, Sumatra remains a destination most travellers resign to their “someday” list. Someday is now. One of the largest islands in the world, this lush Indonesian gem is ideal for adventurers looking for something beyond the ordinary. Wild and rugged, its rare and wonderful flora means it plays host to a rich variety of animal life—some of the most fascinating (and strange) in the world. Get inspired with these bizarre, hilarious and downright interesting facts about the plants and animals that call Sumatra home.

The world's largest flower emits a repulsive odor when in bloom that some have described as similar in smell to rotting meat.

1. Smells like something died: Rafflesia arnoldii

Sumatra is home to the world’s largest flower—the Rafflesia arnoldii. Growing up to 3 ft (1 m) across and tipping the scales at 15 lbs (7 kgs), this rare flower is parasitic and attaches itself to a host to obtain water and nutrients. If that isn’t strange enough, the Rafflesia emits a repulsive odor when in bloom that some have described as similar in smell to rotting meat, earning it the popular name “corpse flower”.

Webbed feet means Sumatran tigers are strong swimmers.

2. Racing stripes: Sumatran tiger

Sumatran tigers are the smallest subspecies of tiger yet boast the greatest concentration of stripes. Their smaller stature allows them to easily navigate through the dense Sumatran jungle. What’s more, their webbed feet means they’re strong swimmers, which comes in handy when they run their prey into the water, a common hunting tactic.


3. The Toolmaker: Sumatran orangutan

Sumatra is the only place outside of Borneo to see orangutans in the wild; however, their numbers have dwindled to ~6,600. Like humans, orangutans are a Great Ape along with gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos—in fact, we share 96.4% of our genetic makeup with them! And, like us, orangutans are born with the ability to reason and think. They use tools, wielding sticks to extract honey from beehives and fashioning umbrellas for themselves out of big leaves in Sumatra’s heavy rains.


4. The Fisher King: Sumatran rhinoceros

The Sumatran rhino is the smallest of its kind and it competes with the Javan rhino for the unenviable title of most critically endangered. In Sumatra, it was once common belief that the rhino fished by defecating in a stream and then harvesting the hapless fish that had been stunned by its excrement. Bon appetit!


5. The Cunning Pooper: Malayan tapir

At first glance, Malayan tapirs resemble large pigs; however, they are more closely related to zebras, donkeys, horses and rhinos. Malayan tapirs can swim well, and they often live near water, using it for refuge from predators like the aforementioned Sumatran tiger. Malayan tapirs will defecate in water—albeit for reasons distinct from those misattributed to the Sumatran rhinoceros: it masks their smell from predators.

Getting There

Fascinated with Sumatra? Want to experience its wild and wonderful side  yourself? G Adventures runs a number of departures to Sumatra throughout the season and we’re thrilled at the prospect of introducing you to this weird and wonderful part of the world. Check out our trips to Indonesia here.

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