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FOUR PAWS opens Orangutan Forest School in Borneo

First orangutan students attend their lessons in the rainforest


For more than a year, the international animal welfare organization FOUR PAWS, together with its local partner Jejak Pulang and the Indonesian government, has been setting up a new rehabilitation project for orangutans in Borneo. Now the time has finally come: Today, the new FOUR PAWS Orangutan Forest School in East Kalimantan has opened, and the first school year can begin. Eight orangutan orphans between the ages of eleven months and nine years will be the first students to attend the 247-acre Forest School run by the FOUR PAWS’ experienced primatologist Dr. Signe Preuschoft. Dr. Preuschoft works with an Indonesian team of 15 animal caretakers, a biologist, and two veterinarians who will intensively care for the orangutans and prepare them for release back into the rainforest.


FOUR PAWS has been caring for the eight orangutan orphans, all of whom had to watch as their mothers became victims of the palm oil, tropical timber, and coal industries. “The goal of the project is to train these orangutans so that in a few years, when they reach the appropriate age, they will be able to return to a natural forest and live there completely free and independent,” explains Dr. Preuschoft.

© BOSF | FOUR PAWS | Adzwari Ridzki

First day at Forest School

Setting up the project in the middle of Borneo’s rainforest is a major logistical challenge, and the infrastructure of the Forest School is still in the making. However, the orangutan orphans need to spend as much time in their natural environment as possible. To do this, the first group of five orangutans travel daily from their current sleeping quarters to the Forest School in a “school bus”. Once there, they learn with their human surrogate mothers the skills that their birth mothers would normally teach them. For example, the curriculum includes climbing, foraging, and building a sleeping nest. Next month, they will be able to move into their new sleeping quarters, just across the river bordering the Forest School.

The animal welfare issue

The orangutans in East Kalimantan need all the help they can get. Only about 50,000 Bornean orangutans are left, indicating a population decline of roughly 80% since 1950. At the same time, approximately three quarters of Borneo’s rain forest have been converted for human purposes, mainly into industrial agriculture or coal mining areas, leaving orangutans little choice other than starvation or eating from human plantations. This exposes them to orangutan-human conflict with the danger of being killed as crop raiders and pests. Defenseless orphans are plucked off their dying mothers’ bodies and illegally kept or sold as pets. By supporting its local partner Jejak Pulang, FOUR PAWS helps these orangutan orphans receive expert care and individual rehabilitation thus providing them a second chance to return to where they belong - the rain forest. Successfully rehabilitated and re-introduced orangutans will contribute to the survival of one of the closest living relatives to humans in the wild. Today, Bornean orangutans are classified as a critically endangered species.


Saving orangutans contributes more than just protection of individual animals. In their natural habitat, re-introduced orangutans can serve as an umbrella species, providing by their very presence, protection to other endangered species such as rhinoceros, clouded leopard, sun bears, hornbills, and many more.



The rehabilitation program for orphan orangutans is run by a team of animal caretakers, behavior experts, and vets. The project is led by FOUR PAWS’ specialist for apes Dr. Signe Preuschoft, a primatologist with over 20 years of experience with the rehabilitation of traumatized apes.


The rehabilitation process in the FOUR PAWS Orangutan Forest School is aligned with the natural development of immature orangutans and follows a science-based curriculum. Most confiscated orangutans are orphans younger than 5 years old. As infants, these orangutans are too young to be released and cannot live independently; they still need (human) surrogate mothers and dedicated nurturing before they can fend for themselves in the wild. Depending on their age, psychological condition, and prior knowledge, the orangutans start their education in the Forest School at different levels; kindergarten, forest school, or orangutan academy. Importantly, every orangutan will pass through the successive training steps according to his/her individual speed and level of competence.