The complex of buildings known as the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) may be one nerve center of OFI’s (Orangutan Foundation International) operations in Borneo but stretching forth like branches from a tree are a network of camps, facilities, and posts. Extending from these are projects ranging from reforestation to orangutan rehabilitation. Camp Rendell is one of these branches. Located in a secluded area of the forest the setup at Rendell is very much like the OCCQ where orangutans are cared for and released daily. There is a constant staff presence at Camp Rendell. The camp is equipped with solar power, a kitchen, storage room, and a smart bungalow for an office, front room and sleeping quarters. Food and other necessary materials are delivered as and when required. Camp Rendell is almost a little community of its own.

This article is the first of several about some of the orangutans currently housed at Camp Rendell. The “ladies of Rendell” would be an apt description for them. This neatly brings us to Lady Gilbert, our current Orangutan of the Month, or Lady as she is commonly referred to by her caregivers. “Lady Gilbert” was named after an actual English lady who served on OFI’s board for many years. An example of prevailing human speciesism in the world, Lady Gilbert was bought and sold years ago in Sampit, a nearby port town. Fortunately, before she could shipped away from Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), she was rescued and brought to the OCCQ.

Lady’s long and light orange hair is immediately striking. It glows in sunlight, brightening the day. She holds her head high displaying excellent poise. A knowing look crosses Lady’s face but she plays her cards close to the chest, careful to not give too much away. Lady is a lean orangutan but after a spell of stagnancy in terms of heft, she has been steadily gaining weight, much to our delight. She is one of the more mature ladies at Rendell and a firm favourite amongst the caregivers. She is a true lady. She has always been gentle and easy to handle.

Lady lives up to her title in many ways, maintaining her own forest etiquette. As her sleeping enclosure is opened in the morning, she holds out her hand ready for her gentleman caregiver to assist her down the steps. She then slips easily onto the assistant’s back to be carried into the forest.

Watching Lady helps highlight the differences between female and male orangutans. Orangutans are highly sexually dimorphic. There are substantial differences in body size and shape between males and females. Moving past the physical differences, male and female orangutan temperaments can also be vastly different. When Lady first made it to Rendell she had male orangutan, Abraham, and female orangutan, Kent, to keep her company. Like most male orangutans over the years Abraham has developed into a large, strong presence. He careens riotously out of the sleeping enclosure in the morning and can be quite difficult to manage. Soon we may not be able to control him. Lady, on the other hand, is calm, cool and collected.

Lady wastes no time in inspecting the estates. She saunters high up into the trees. In contrast with some of her peers, about whom you will read about in subsequent months, Lady doesn’t spend much time on the ground. For one thing, the ground can be fairly mucky and wet during the rainy season. Lady likes to keep herself clean.

There is plenty to do up in the canopy. The forest surrounding Rendell has plenty of trees with a variety of fruit in eye catching colours. Orangutans can easily spend 12 hours a day eating and foraging. Ripe fruits are their preference as food. Lady picks her way through the range of flavors from sweet, on one hand, to bitter, on the other. Up in the canopy Lady’s petite frame and dainty ways work to her advantage. Thinner branches that would break under a heavier weight and a less elegant approach are no problem for her. She edges out onto delicate twigs to extract red ants massing on the leaves.

A calm silence blankets the forest as Lady busies educating herself and enjoying her time. She is so quiet and still in the canopy that she almost seems like a statue sitting atop the trees. Unlike the gargoyles/grotesques favoured on Gothic architectural facades, she is certainly more pleasing to the eye. The overwhelming silence can be misleading as the learning forest is not devoid of life. A menagerie of animals such as forest “chickens”, deer, leopard cats, gibbons and macaques dwell within. Very occasionally a clouded leopard appears. At one point Lady accidentally disturbs one of the forest’s tenants. As she is climbing from one tree to the next, a dark shape twitches and reveals itself to be a flying squirrel that had been nesting in her desired spot. The flying squirrel leaps forth spreading her/his wings (or patagium, a parachute like membrane that runs from wrist to ankle) and glides to another tree. Lady is unperturbed and carries on as she was. Lady doesn’t like to cause a fuss no matter what the situation and happily minds her own business.

By joining Lady on her daily releases we are able to witness these moments. The forest is full of marvels. The quieter you are, the more you begin to notice what is around you. The daily releases of the orangutans at Camp Rendell, as a whole, tend to be relatively uneventful which is not a bad thing by any means. As long as Lady is happy, then we’re all happy.
As usual, Lady spends the entire daily release up in the trees, never once venturing near the ground or causing a ruckus. She never does anything that would be unbecoming for a “lady”. She seems to be a born aristocrat.

Feeling fatigued, Lady calls a halt to her forest movements and decides to take a break. Quickly constructing a makeshift day nest, Lady lays down to rest like a baby in a cradle.

Lady’s caregivers are never quite sure when she will deem it time to retire for the day. A lady comes home when she is ready, not before. She has spent the day filling her belly with various forest fruits but remains thirsty. Her caregivers eventually convince her to come down from the sky for some milk. She gulps this down as they all slowly head back to camp.

We are in fine company with Lady. She provides a great example of what orangutans are like and why we love them so.. One can’t help feeling that she has a bright future and that her tenderness and quiet confidence will take her far.

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