Feeding a large family is never easy. But when that family includes hundreds of hungry orangutans with big appetites, ‘meal time’ becomes a daily epic adventure to provide a steady supply of the nutrients, calories and variety that are essential to raising healthy great apes.
Most of the orphans that come to our Care Center are three years old or younger, prime milk-drinking age. Often malnourished by the time they arrive, these babies never seem to get enough, guzzling bottle after bottle of fortified milk from their surrogate mothers’ hands and transforming their tiny sunken stomachs into plump, watermelon-bellies. To give their fragile immune systems the best fighting chance, we boost their diets with multi-vitamins, baby porridge, and other supplements. Today, we have sixty-three milk-drinking baby orangutans in our nursery, pushing our annual milk bill to more than $10,000 USD. Never mind the milk that we still give out at our forest feeding stations to released ex-captive orangutans! Please remember that in the wild, orangutan juveniles sometimes suckle their mothers until they are 7 or 8 years old!
While milk is essential to a good start in life, orangutans are best known for being voracious eaters of ripe fruit; scientific field records indicate they consume over 250 species of wild fruit in primary forest. As our babies mature here at the Care Center, fruit and vegetables are introduced into their diets, and they join the Center’s other fruit-munchers. OFI feeds 340 orphan orangutans at the Care Center as well as over 200 released orangutans who sometimes return to the feeding stations at our release sites. This is where the real challenge begins. The search for and purchase, transport, and distribution of more than 200,000 pounds of food per year is truly a monumental team effort.
First, cultivated and wild fruit needs to be located somewhere in the area. While OFI maintains agreements with manyseveral local village growers, including a women’s co-operative who provide bananas and other regular crops, the availability of most fruit is determined by the seasonality of the tropics. Our “fruit scouts” are always on the lookout for fresh pineapples, rambutans, or durian. In a year’s time, orangutans in our care will consume more than 40 25 varieties of fruits and vegetabless, including the occasional wild fruit sourced from the forest.
To move thousands of pounds of fresh food from farms, gardens, and remote villages to the Care Center, a full-time crew of drivers and two very well-worn trucks is constantly on the move, loading up mounds of papayas, melons, mangoes, etc.and unloading sacks of sweet corn, cucumbers, yams, etc.. At the Care Center our orangutan caregivers distribute the harvest to their charges three times a day, some of whom (like the 8 year old male Lawrence ), can eat up to 20 pounds of mangoes in a single daysitting! Even in Borneo, mangoes aren’t cheap! Keeping hundreds of hungry fruit consumers like Lawrence and his orange friends nourished costs approximately $250,000 per year which goes directly into the local economy.
Like many full-grown human children, some of our rehabilitated orangutans released into the forest over the past three decades still depend on us for an occasional helping hand. About half of the 400+ orangutans we’ve released over the years continue to return to their original release sites where they know they can find supplementary nutrition when needed. OFI maintains forest-based feeding platforms in seven active and former sites for this purpose. Keeping these far-flung stations supplied with weekly fruit, as well as staffed and maintained, is a challenging but important endeavour since human development pressure surrounding our forest release sites limits orangutans’ range and puts added pressure on the remaining forest habitat that naturally supports their diet.
Good food and plenty of it is clearly key to keeping the orangutans under our care healthy and happy; our round-the-clock ‘kitchen’ would not be possible without your kind support. Many thanks!