BOSTON, MA- May 23, 2018— After their mothers were killed, due to conflicts with palm oil, tropical timber, and coal industries, orphaned orangutans in Borneo now have a place to learn the survival skills they need. Young, rescued orangutans are assigned human surrogates who step in to teach them natural behaviors such as foraging, building a sleeping nest and of course, tree climbing.
To that end, even the teachers need teachers.
FOUR PAWS partnered with Tree Monkey Project, a California non-profit organization. Tree Monkey Project has helped introduce technical climbing tactics and equipment to FOUR PAWS staff who can, in turn, better and more naturally assist in the rehabilitation of the orangutans.
James Reed, Founder of Tree Monkey project recently travelled to Borneo for the staff’s first training and explained, “Orangutans spend more than 75% of their lives in the trees, and the staff must be equipped to follow them where they live. Technical tree climbing skills are vital to ensuring the staff are safe and effective while protecting the forest itself.”
This project proved to be a global affair together with FOUR PAWS, the international animal welfare organization, its Indonesian partner Jejak Pulang and the Indonesian government.
A year of planning and construction has now resulted in the new FOUR PAWS Orangutan Forest School in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, and the first school year will now begin.
Eight orangutan orphans between the ages of eleven months and nine years will be the first students to attend the 250-acre Forest School run by 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 care for the orangutans and prepare them for release back into the rainforest.
A special aspect of this project is that every animal is supported depending on their individual development level and pace by Dr. Preuschoft and her team. Therefore, not all orangutans are in the same “class.”
Baby Gonda, aged about eight months at his arrival, had to build muscle to cling and hold fast on his own and to learn how orangutans move around in the forest.
“In the meantime, Gonda has already learned to climb in trees. By now, he can hang upside down and hold onto a branch with only his legs. His friend, Tegar, who is four months older, is already more agile. He bends small branches together, grabs the next branch, shifts his center of gravity and then slides over like normal orangutan behavior. Gonda still has a lot of practice to do until he can manage that.”
Dr. Preuschoft said
Forest School graduation – what comes next?
Rehabilitation in the Forest School curriculum matches natural child development.
As babies, they first live in the loving care of their human surrogate mothers in the baby house and visit the kindergarten. From the age of two, the toddlers attend the Forest School. As their competence increases, the orangutans become more adventurous and independent. When they reach puberty, it is time for them to graduate to the so-called Forest Academy. The FOUR PAWS team decides on “graduation”, or time to release the young orangutan into the wild on a case by case basis.
“Generally speaking, orangutans reach a phase in which they want to increasingly go their own way at around the age of nine years. Then we bring them to the reintroduction region, the Forest Academy. While they are always under our supervision and protection, they are already in an environment where they can give free rein to their own need for exploration and independence. If everything goes smoothly there, then they can enjoy a life of freedom afterwards.”
FOUR PAWS and the orangutan project in Borneo
FOUR PAWS has been working to rehabilitate traumatized orangutan orphans in Borneo for over a decade. Following a re-organization of local activities, the new FOUR PAWS-funded Forest School is a cooperation project among FOUR PAWS, its local partner Jejak Pulang, and the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
In addition to the completion of the infrastructure in the forest, a quarantine station and a tree house for very small orangutan orphans are planned.
There is no greater need for this program than right now.Borneo’s rainforest has been destroyed on a massive scale over the last four decades. At the same time, thousands of orangutans have become victims of the palm oil, tropical timber and coal industries. Every year, between 2,000 and 3,000 orangutans are killed because they are considered “harvest thieves” in palm oil plantations. Some may also be killed for their meat. Helpless orphans whose mothers were deliberately killed end up as pets. As a result, the Bornean orangutans are among the critically endangered species.
FOUR PAWS strives, through this project and others, to find a sustainable solution to protect and preserve wild orangutans in Indonesia.