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Orangutan of the Month: Bali

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Galdikas’ Angels: Bali

Anyone staying in a foreign country for a certain amount of time is bound to experience some cultural differences. Please let me give you a small example. I can’t imagine a woman back in my own home country of the Netherlands, telling me that she is trying to eat more in order to become big and heavy. But to quote an anonymous caregiver at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Pasir Panjang, Central Indonesian Borneo: “I want to be big and fat. Like Bali. She is very beautiful!”

Weighing in at just over 50 kilos, Bali is certainly a big girl. Bali’s small face doesn’t really seem to be in proportion with the huge body and belly that she has developed over the years, and this makes her a unique-looking orangutan. However, she is, indeed, a beautiful girl with chocolate-brown eyes full of curiosity and an energetic, independent, and mischievous character. Paralyzed from the waist down, she moves around either by pulling herself with her arms, or, more often, by barrel-rolling at exceptionally high speeds.

Bali eating the inside of a banana tree.
Bali eating the inside of a banana tree.

Currently, Bali shares her night enclosure with five other female orangutans; this is because she recently destroyed her own private enclosure and escaped from it, barrel-rolling her way to Mamat’s (a large but young adult male orangutan) cage for a visit. Although Bali spends her time on the ground and has a severe disability, her new friends know not to mess with her. Bali can often be found, laying on her back, in her sleeping enclosure with one or two of the smaller orangutans grooming her.

If anyone approaches the enclosure, Bali pulls herself to the bars and stretches out her arms in order to obtain food, drinks, or enrichment. Her friends carefully gather around her and seem to respect Bali as they give her some room to catch the loot.

Already fourteen years old, Bali is amongst the oldest girls in the Care Center. It’s good to see that the orangutans at the OCCQ are raised decently and know to respect an older lady!

At the moment, the most important thing for Bali is to exercise and get in better shape. A wide range of movement is important so that Bali can redevelop her muscles and reshape her body to normal proportions again. And where better to do this than in the forest behind the Care Center?

Bali in the forest behind the Care Center eating some leaves.
Bali in the forest behind the Care Center eating some leaves.

Taking Bali out of her enclosure is an easy and fun task. She rolls out the door and looks innocently at her caregiver, stretching out her arms to be taken somewhere. Carrying her 50+ kilos to the forest, in the heat of the equatorial sun, is less fun. However, putting her down on the ground and seeing her start barrel-rolling and pulling herself through the forest is a sight well worth the effort.

But Bali is still a true orangutan! Orangutans are known for the fact that they use as little energy as possible. Bali will only move to forage. For instance, she will move great distances to reach young banana trees and will use her strong arms to rip the trees apart. Once Bali has found the food source she was aiming for, then she will sit and eat until the food is finished, just like wild orangutans do. Maybe she was born to be a big girl, something that particular Indonesian caregiver can only dream about.

Bali’s wonderful smile!
Bali’s wonderful smile!

There is no question that Bali is building strength during her outings to the forest. She enjoys ripping apart banana trees in particular, breaking off branches from a variety of other trees, pulling herself up on tree trunks, and barrel-rolling on the ground like there is no tomorrow. It’s really good to bring Bali outside. Spending time in the forest is clearly a good way to get Bali back in shape. She also benefits from eating healthy food in the forest.

Of all the orangutans I have witnessed at the Care Center, Bali has one of the happiest expressions on her face while being outside. Her smile warms my heart and makes the task of carrying Bali in the heat out to the forest totally worthwhile. Although she can be very mischievous and naughty at times, after seeing her smile, it is impossible to stay mad at Bali.

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