Let’s talk about Judy! Orphan orangutans who are kept in private households are often placed in situations completely outside of their normal understanding. Judy was one of these as she arrived at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) wearing human clothes. This is something that has happened on more than one occasion when “pet” orangutans have been brought in wearing clothes as the “owners” believe this is cute or even makes their orangutan “child” respectable. This can be confusing for the infant orangutan and may produce unusual behaviors. Luckily, Judy was still relatively young when she was confiscated and thanks to the efforts of the OFI caregivers she has had a chance to mature into a healthy and well-adjusted orangutan.
Judy is a very affectionate orangutan. She clings to her caregiver, Ibu Yanti as they walk to Forest School and lavishes the same attention on her orangutan peers. Judy now resides at Pondok Dua, the camp for juvenile orangutans, and there she has plenty of company. Orangutan Ulexa is her special friend. They can be frequently seen in their sleeping enclosure hugging close to each other. They share everything together even milk from one another’s mouths. They don’t like to stray too far from one another either. Ulexa will cry out and follow Judy if she wanders too far, which Judy frequently does. Like a racehorse out of the starting gate Judy springs into action when she arrives at Forest School. She subscribes to the theory that there is strength in numbers. Alongside Ulexa, Judy plays with fellow females Bayat and Karti. They gather together and wrestle on the ground in delight. After a successful bout Judy collapses onto her back and isn’t averse to her caregivers giving her a good tummy rub. Judy also sits close to Karti on the hanging vines that decorate the learning forest. They share a quick hug of encouragement before going their separate ways. Female adolescents in the wild sometimes travel in small temporary groups, often of close relatives, so this type of behavior is not so foreign for these young orangutans.
Playtime is soon over in Forest School. There is so much for Judy to learn. Orangutans have very long childhoods with their mothers as there is much immatures need to memorise before they can make it on their own. Often daughters stick around their mother until their early teens even when mother has further offspring. This may be adaptive as this way they can pick up future mothering and foraging tips. Every day is a school day.
Judy spends equal amounts of time on terra firma digging through the dirt as on climbing through the trees. As she digs, she brings her long nimble fingers up to her nose and takes a great sniff, filing away the scents in her mind’s palace. Judy gazes this way and that, taking her time to understand the forest around her. She strides back and forth in the undergrowth making her mind up on where to go next. She seems to suffer from itchy feet as she is always on the move. As with many juveniles released for the day, Judy decides to shimmy up a tree and disappear into a smorgasbord of leaves and twigs. Caregivers are resigned to standing and watching the branches shake. It’s not always clear what Judy is doing but as she and other orangutans her age rifle through the branches and leaves, it is clear they are enjoying themselves. “School” can be fun. Learning can be fun.
The Pondok Dua assistants judge Judy’s mood and give her enough space to explore on her own. Judy is liable to venture far into the forest if her caregivers keep on top of her but if they hang back and allow her to reconnoitre solo, she will return of her own volition. This strategy doesn’t always work as caregivers find themselves scattered throughout the forest keeping track of various orangutans. There can be anywhere up to 12 orangutans on release together in one area of forest so the caregivers are kept busy. Soon enough a caregiver will be calling that Judy has made her way over. The assistants meet up under the tree that Judy is busy utilising. She is snacking on leaves and deciding which ones she enjoys the most.
Judy is quite coy when it comes to being photographed so one has to be quick in order to catch her at the right moment with a camera. This wariness of human items can only be a good thing as Judy sticks to what she knows and that is the natural forest. As she shies away from the camera, Judy once more ascends higher into the trees. Here she can find remnants of old nests from previous Forest School attendees. Judy likes to renovate these and make them her own. The primary goal of nest making is ensuring the nest is comfortable and Judy likes her creature comforts. Wild orangutans usually construct a new nest every night but occasionally they will use nests left behind by fellow orangutans. Judy toys with an old nest for a while but is more interested in playing with her peers. She throws down some branches from the nest and jumps onto an adjoining vine to join Ulexa and Karti in their shenanigans.
At the end of the school day if we were to grade Judy, we would definitely give her points for effort. We are also glad to see that she is continually adding to her knowledge base. A little more concentration on her part is required but Judy is well on her way to the possibility of life in the wild. A far from normal beginning in life has evaporated away and the result is an affectionate, active, and good-natured orangutan. This is not bad! Given Judy’s beginnings, a pet in human clothes, it could have been worse. OFI will continue to provide for her as long she needs support and guidance.