All orangutans have their own needs and learning styles. At the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Central Indonesian Borneo, the OFI staff respect the unique personalities of each orangutan.
Allisson is a focused and methodical orangutan, and one who does not like to be rushed. Allisson arrived at the Care Center when she was a few years old, with long armfuls of thick hair. She was not ready to be separated from her mother. In the wild, orangutans stay close with their mothers until they are about 8-10 years old. The premature separation from her mother left this little orphan alone and scared. Like virtually all the orphans at the Care Center, Allisson’s mother had been killed, probably during forest clearing operations.
On arrival Allisson was very shy, timid with OFI staff, and even more so with her peers. Once her quarantine period was complete, she was introduced to some other orangutans. As they approached Allisson to play, she seemed overwhelmed and disoriented by the attention. She would look for the nearest exit or find a place to hide. It was all too much for her.
For her own well-being, she was housed by herself, though not far from the others. She was given the time she needed to acclimate to this new environment. After some time, she was reintroduced to the other orangutans, and this time, the bond stuck.
A patient approach seems to define much of Allisson’s life. She even exercises self-control when milk arrives on the scene. She will literally spin around in circles joyfully anticipating the milk, but she still shows a calm demeanor with respect to her peers. While some orangutans clamber over and bite away at each other to get their milk first, Allisson peacefully waits for her turn.
Allisson’s energetic side shines during forest school. When she arrives to the enrichment playground, she will roll her way in. Exerting her independence, she watches her peers follow the well-trodden path to the Learning Forest, and chooses to take the scenic route instead. Veering off into the dense undergrowth, she loops her way around, vaulting through the trees until she arrives at her destination. After this “mad five minutes” of excitement, she settles down and prepares to observe her surroundings. If she hears a noise in the forest, she must go toward it. Investigating is something Allisson takes very seriously. She enjoys studying her environment. If she sees a tasty looking caterpillar, she will first scrutinize and “understand” it before gobbling it up.
Traversing the rainforest, Allisson breaks off green branches she happens across in order to inspect them better. When inspecting muddy pools, she rakes away at the mud around all sides. If she spots tree roots with a small hole, she must see what is inside, even if it is just more mud! She also enjoys immersing her face in the mud on a hot day to cool off.
After spending some time on the ground, Allisson shoots up the trees to chase her fellow orangutans. She and friend Bobble both enjoy climbing and seem to compete to see who can go the highest. Allisson is very orderly about it. She uses all four limbs to hook onto the available branches, and uses the saplings to launch herself between the trees. She has a good sense for foraging, finding passion fruits up in the trees, and snacking on the fibrous young leaves. She then hangs freely, catching the breeze and enjoying her place in the forest canopy.
A skill still on the to-do list for Allisson is building a nest. An adept orangutan can make a nest in five minutes. Allisson hasn’t really bothered with nest making just yet. She is, however, quite adept at destroying ones that she comes across, and it takes much less than five minutes.
After initially having a hard time adjusting to life at the Care Center, Allisson is now very gentle and easy to call in at the end of the day. Her progress is evident as she returns from playing and thinks nothing of walking past some of the sleeping enclosures of the older orangutans. She even stops sometimes to see if there’s anything she can steal for herself!
Allisson has a peaceful aura about her, and she can teach us all a little something about patience. There is no need to rush. You can take your time to look around and experience what the world has to offer. Allisson cherishes her moments in the rainforest. Someday Allisson’s patient acceptance of her surroundings will pay off when she is ready to be returned to the wild, free to spend as much time as she wants climbing and investigating the world.