It only takes one moment of clarity to realize how important enrichment is for captive animals. My moment of clarity came last week when I was introduced to a young orangutan through long-term volunteer Jennifer Donay. Not only has this orangutan inspired a unique new enrichment program, but she also has taught me many lessons about what is important in life and how to enjoy the simple pleasures every day. Our Featured Orangutan of the Week is Hocky, a four year old female who suffered a debilitating stroke at a young age.
It is sad that one event can have such a profound impact on the life of an individual and in Hocky’s case, her life and future were forever changed when she had a stroke. The left side of her body was weakened to the point that her left hand curls inward and her left foot cannot grasp well. However, it is still evident that Hocky is a beautiful orangutan and if you spend just a few minutes with her, you will see that her beauty is a reflection of her enduring spirit and gentle nature. Her long eye-lashes, large soul-searching brown eyes, and her rich autumn red hair captivate your attention immediately and she steals your heart when she gently gives you a wet sloppy kiss with her warm pink tongue. Hocky is one of a kind and I knew that she would need a one of a kind enrichment program to meet her special needs.
The most important enrichment that we can give Hocky is daily outings to the forest. At first, she was not sure exactly what to do on these outings and spent the majority of time scooting around on her tummy in every direction. She soon learned to relish these hours of freedom and now spends time making mud pies, splashing through puddles, staring at the sky, and trying to climb small trees. It was so inspiring to see her first attempts at climbing as she grasped a trunk with her right hand and attempted to pull herself onto a low branch by propelling her body upward with her right leg. Amazingly, she still had the strength to climb onto the branch by only using her right arm! How many of us can do a one-handed pull-up even in the best of health?! During these outings, we also spend time stretching and massaging her left hand and foot to increase circulation and flexibility. Although it is too early yet to see any physical results of this, we have gained Hocky’s trust, which allows us to continue to work with her and improve her physical condition.
Having the opportunity to work with Hocky has enriched my life in so many ways as I strive to enrich hers. When we are out in the forest, she has taught me to slow down and pay attention to the daily beauty of life that is so easy to overlook. We sit in the sun together, smelling the breeze, and enjoying the warm caress of heat on our bodies. After playing in myriad puddles, she will curl up next to me for a short nap, closing her eyes with a contented sigh as if nothing in the world could make her happier than falling asleep in the sun covered with mud but with good company. Hocky’s experience has given her a serene outlook and a tranquil personality that shines forth and immediately puts those around her at ease. When she is given a pile of branches to play with in her night house, it takes her about five minutes to build a perfectly round nest that she is soon snoring happily on. The sight of a fresh banana leaves her quivering with excitement and peanuts are just the ultimate delicious treat in her eyes. For Hocky, it is the simple things in life that bring such happiness; a lesson that we all would benefit from learning.