Photographs and story by Carol Ritchie
I first met Ego (pronounced Egg-0) in 1998, one of the many orphaned orangutans being cared for by OFI Indonesian staff. Dr. Galdikas suggested I concentrate my volunteer efforts working to bring her out of her shell.
Ego was very insecure and afraid of most of the local OFI assistants as well as most other orangutans. Needless to say, she was terrified of me! It was clear she desperately missed the nurturing that orangutan mothers provide to their young and to fill the void she had adopted a surrogate mother, a sweet patient orangutan named Sasha (not that much older or bigger than Ego herself).
Ego would cling to Sasha when leaving or entering their night crate and when sleeping, and would spend most of the day in close proximity to her “Mom”! Perfect, I thought – I can nurture for a while and give Sasha a break. Wrong! Although insecure, Ego is feisty and made it clear it would not be easy to gain her trust. Daily I tried and after four weeks the most ground I had gained was a somewhat playful (but an obviously reluctant playful) reaching for the branch I swished back and forth. It was a start but then I had to return home.
Fast forward to 1999 and Ego and I meet again, and again I start over. After six weeks, on the very last day before I had to leave, Ego approached me. OK, I know it was the cup of tea I had that enticed her to be so brave but I didn’t care! She climbed onto my lap, drank the tea, and proceeded to settle in with her arms around my waist. I was thrilled!
Ego still clings to Sasha when leaving and entering their crate but I noticed she was spending more time on her own this year. I saw her interact with Kristen, an extremely sociable orangutan who thinks she is a person! This is progress, however slow. Ego may never get over the trauma of losing her mother but with the attention provided by Sasha and Kristen, the local OFI caretakers (and, hopefully, me) she will eventually gain the confidence and independence needed to someday make it on her own in the wild.
Please be sure to visit OFI’s Orangutan Foster Parent page to see how you can help Ego and her many orphaned companions.