Orangutan Orangutan of the Month

A new baby orangutan at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) is sometimes the last link in a great chain. Lori Belle was reportedly found by some villagers in their “garden” and she was presented to the Taman Nasional (National Park office of the Indonesian Forestry), who passed her along to the KSDA (Nature Protection agency of the Indonesian Forestry Department) until she was finally handed over to OFI. She has grown a bit and now resides in an outer camp where she is cared for and released daily into the surrounding forest. These days Lori Belle has a full head of hair and a very pronounced eyebrow ridge (also known as frontal torus). Her petite forehead only brings out her striking eyes even more.

She is a very tactile orangutan. She has a propensity for reaching out to test a person or object and has mastered skills to get by in the jungle. On the way to the Learning Forest Lori Belle is deep in concentration, intensely watching the trees nearby. Perched on her caregiver’s back her arm whips out, her hand wraps around some hanging fruit and she yanks it towards her without causing her caregiver to break his stride. Her timing is impeccable and she happily chews her prize. Lori Belle is a proactive lady. She sees what she wants and goes for it.  Orangutans prefer fruits with fatty pulp. Ficus fruits are often consumed since they are accessible and easy to digest.

The group arrives in an area decorated with pitcher plants of varying sizes. This carnivorous plant has specially modified leaves that act as pitfall traps. Insects land on the lid of the leaf and fall into a cavity filled with the plant’s digestive liquid. After a heavy downpour rainwater collects in the “pitchers.” Lori Belle casually plucks one out of the ground and takes a swig from it utilising one of nature’s cups. Orangutans seem unaffected by this toxic plant’s fluid. Another way orangutans hydrate is by chewing leaves into a sponge-like substance, which they use to obtain water from tree cavities.

Lori Belle is housed with her friends, Safitri and Bama, and the three are released together. As Bama flings herself around willy-nilly, Lori Belle is much more pensive and delicate. We can glimpse her eyes through the leaves and bracken. She is watching and assessing all that is going on around her. She has a cerebral and measured approach to life. She inspects the trees intently. Bama tries on numerous occasions to engage Lori Belle in play. Lori Belle is initially resistant. As the morning wears on, however, Bama’s advances eventually sucker Lori Belle in. They come together and wrestle around the forest, Bama not letting up for a moment. Lori Belle parries Bama with equal force. Just because she doesn’t start it doesn’t mean she’s not going to finish it.. This back and forth takes place over much of the release period and the ongoing contest between these two helps highlight the contrast in their  personalities: LoriBell quiet and sedate, Bama a bit more rambunctious and less reserved.

Lori Belle finally finds an area to herself and we now arrive at the arts and crafts portion of the day. You can see the cogs turning in her brain as she grabs branches and leaves and works out what to do with them. She is very good with her hands as she strips the outer layers of vines without a second thought. Down on the ground she digs through the Earth and smothers her face and mouth with soil. This a favourite pastime of hers. Orangutans are known to eat soil. One explanation for this is that it helps counteract the large amount of tannic acids produced as a result of their fruity diet.

Some releases are more active than others. It really all comes down to how Lori Belle feels on the day  of release. This is what dictates the tempo of the release. As she lays down on the ground her hands and feet still grasp the tree nearest to her so she can move at a moment’s notice. An insect lands on Lori Belle’s face and she scrunches up her mouth to get rid of it. She casts her eyes towards her caregivers.

Orangutans have a way of looking right into you. They make sense of you. Lori Belle possesses this penetrating stare. It’s hard to turn away from her as Lori Belle’s gaze is like the warmth of a hot summer’s day. It’s most welcome at this moment as clouds begin to gather in the sky above and the wind picks up in the forest. Lori Belle heads up the tree, her body forming an X shape as she wedges herself between two tree trunks. She looks to the horizon impassively.  If it begins to rain Lori Belle will not descend; instead she will hunker down for the long haul. Some orangutans resign themselves to getting wet but crafty orangutans like Lori Belle use big leaves placed over their heads like  umbrellas to stave off the rain. In the past Lori Belle has stayed out overnight in the Learning Forest. Her current record for the length of time before returning to her sleeping enclosure stands at two nights and two days. Despite the caregiver’s best efforts to tempt her down, she merrily makes a nest for the night and sleeps there up in the canopy. It is good to know she has no trouble  staying in the forest.  

With her nest making, foraging and climbing skills, we could say Lori Belle is a typical orangutan but her life is completely atypical to how it should be. Our meetings should never have happened; we shouldn’t be writing this and you shouldn’t be reading this but here we are. Being restricted in your movements and freedom isn’t fun for anyone, something we can all agree on. This rule applies to all animals, not just humans. In the forest orangutans need humans like a fish needs a bicycle. The threats orangutans face seem insurmountable and we are responsible for virtually all those threats. We have a duty of care to repair the damage that has been done to nature and little by little we accomplish this by taking care of orangutans so they can return to the wild in addition to protecting wild orangutan populations and the magnificent ancient forests they inhabit.

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