Orangutans in Indonesia are severely threatened by extinction through deforestation and shrinking habitats. They are victims of the palm oil, tropical timber, and coal industries. On palm oil plantations they are often killed for money, as they are considered to be "crop thieves." The killing of these great animals leaves many vulnerable orangutan orphans exposed in the rainforest, and many end up being illegally sold by animal dealers as pets.
So much of Borneo’s forest has now been destroyed that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially classified the Borneo orangutan as critically endangered at the beginning of 2016. Recent studies show that the orangutan population in Borneo has shrunk by 80 percent and without serious and immediate protection they will be doomed to extinction within three orangutan generations.
Human land use destroying orangutan habitat
As a result of their shrinking habitat, orangutan mothers are increasingly confronted by human beings. Many mother apes do not survive these encounters and as a result their children become orphans. For years, FOUR PAWS has been fighting against the extermination of these beautiful great apes. Unlike many other mammals, an orangutan does not come into the world fully developed. Like a human, they have to learn. Therefore, together with our Indonesian partner organization Jejak Pulang, we have built a forest school for orphaned orangutans where they are cared for and trained by humans over several years in order to be released again into the wild as self-sufficient adults.
The orangutan forest school
The education of orangutan orphans takes several years. The process demonstrates how closely humans and apes resemble each other, as orangutan children don't reach adulthood until they're around 14 years old. Education begins in infancy or early childhood and continues until the orangutan is old enough to come to terms with living alone in the wild. This means that training a single orangutan orphan typically takes over ten years.
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.
Human substitute mothers for ape youngsters
It is when they are very small that close contact to an attachment figure is especially important. Like human children, our baby orphans and youngsters need a mother. Because their own mother can no longer take on this role, we have a team of human substitute mothers who lovingly take care of the little ones. At the same time, contact with other orangutan children is crucial for their development. We enable the young apes to lead a normal life in the rainforest, with one exception – their mother is a human.
Every day they spend most of the day with members of the same species in the forest. They learn by imitation from their substitute mothers as well as from other apes. Their real mothers would teach them in a similar way. This freedom allows us to prepare the amimals in the best possible way for life in the rainforest. The older they become, the more their substitute mothers and fathers let them go and allow them to independently discover the forest for themselves.
First orangutan orphan in the forest school
The first orangutan orphan has already moved into our forest school in East Kalimantan. His mother was found killed on a palm oil plantation and local villagers took care of the little one. At around eight months old, he was confiscated by the Indonesian authorities and handed over to our partner organization Jejak Pulang. We named the little one Gonda. Little Gonda will spend the next decade in our care and hopefully, as an adult, he will help aid in the survival of the orangutan population on Borneo.