As you read the title of this article, the thought might have occurred to you that an orangutan climbing a tree is not really news worthy. We would normally agree; indeed, if we were to write a news item for every time that an orangutan climbs a tree at the Care Center, there would be no time left for rehabilitation, feeding, enrichment, or anything else! However, in the case of Hangki, climbing a tree is an amazing and extraordinary achievement.
Hangki was a rehabilitated ex-captive orangutan living comfortably in the wild when she was struck down by an unknown viral disease which left her paralyzed from the hips down. Subsequently, she was brought back to our Care Center. She has been living here for several years now, where she enjoys regular outings to the forest. While in the forest, Hangki takes things very slowly. Because she cannot move her legs, she gets around by using her arms to drag herself towards branches and tree trunks, or by doing some very unique head-over-feet summersaults. Most of Hangki´s movements and activities in the forest serve one sole purpose, and that is to find food!
Hangki in the middle of one of her head-over-body summersaults
Over the years, several different caregivers have worked with Hangki and tried to improve her physical abilities and range of motion. A common exercise involved spreading treats around in the forest and keeping Hangki physically active by making her work to find these snacks. Using peanuts as rewards always led to the most success; there is very little that Hangki won’t do for a peanut! But whenever a peanut was hidden up in a tree, Hangki would turn to her caregiver with a look that seemed to say: “I’m not going all the way up there just for one tiny peanut!!”
Here at OFI, we have always believed that Hangki has the potential to once again climb trees. Because she had so much experience exploring the forest canopy before she was paralyzed and because of the well developed strength and flexibility that remain in her arms, we’ve always maintained high hopes that her time in the trees was not yet over. For Hangki, however, there never seemed a good enough reason for her to bother trying to climb trees. That, however, was before she was introduced to the rattan balls that our enrichment team makes! These wicker-like balls can be filled to the brink with peanuts and this made Hangki’s motivation to obtain the reward rise to new heights (literally)! When a rattan ball full of peanuts was positioned on a tree branch a few meters off the ground, Hangki gathered together all her strength and went for it! Take a look at the amazing results!!
Hangki grabs the first branch within reach and takes a good look at the rattan ball up in the tree (in the top right corner of the picture).
With the first flexing of her muscles, Hangki pulls herself upright and gets ready for a big climbing adventure
Hangki lifts herself completely from the ground while holding the first branch and then she slowly reaches higher.
With two hands firmly on the second branch, Hangki gets ready to pull herself up and towards the rattan ball. She is already halfway!
After Hangki pulls herself up to the second branch, she doesn’t have the strength to cling onto it with one arm and to reach for the rattan ball with the other. Instead, she bites deep into the branch and uses her strong jaw to hold on.
As the branch begins to bend under the weight of big Hangki, she stretches out with her long arm and manages, with the very tips of her fingers, to push the rattan ball off the branch and into the soft grass.
The rattan ball is on the ground right in front of Hangki and she is very much looking forward to pulling it apart and obtaining the peanuts hidden inside. You would expect Hangki to drop to the ground immediately…
… but instead it seems as if Hangki is enjoying being in the trees once again and, just for the fun of it, she plays around a little more on the branches before landing on the ground to enjoy her treat.