Maxine is one of the most clever orangutans I have met at the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ). One would guess that her favourite enrichment item would be a complex puzzle feeder or an intricately wrapped parcel of leaves but Maxine prefers a simple burlap sack. While other orangutans often rip apart burlap sacks, Maxine keeps hers completely intact and makes sure that nothing happens to it for weeks! She sits on it, puts it over her head, tries to reach things with it, even spins and swings from it. She often cuddles up with it when she is sleeping; I guess we all need a security blanket sometimes.

Maxine and her sack.

Maxine and her sack.

Maxine is approximately 9 years old. She was first introduced to OFI when she arrived at the age of five. She was brought to the OCCQ by the Indonesian Forestry Department from western Borneo. She has no official history but definately has a story – she is the only one who knows it. Maxine is classified into the “failure to thrive” category; she is small with low body mass. She is a good eater, albeit very picky, but seems unable to put on weight. There is no medical reason to explain this as she is an otherwise healthy orangutan. Too often the stress and trauma of an orangutan’s past can lead to poor eating habits and/or the inability to grow at the expected rate. Maxine is on a special feeding regime to provide her with more calories. This regime consists of a variety of local fruits plus an additional portion of porridge made from mung beans, red rice, milk and pumpkin. Although she loves her porridge, she is still struggling to put on weight.

Maxine in the forest.

Maxine in the forest.

One of the things I find most interesting about Maxine is her trading behavior. Making trades, or bartering, is a characteristic of some primates. An example is social grooming most commonly displayed by social apes like chimpanzees; you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. Orangutans are solitary animals where grooming is usually only seen between mother and offspring. However, orangutans are known to make trades with other orangutans for fruit and other objects. Maxine will offer her highly coveted burlap sack in exchange for bright red hibiscus flowers. How do we know she is trying to make a trade? She will push the sack into her caregiver’s hand and either point or push her caregiver in the direction of the hibiscus tree. Those hibiscus flowers must be very tasty in order for Maxine to part with her beloved sack. Don’t worry, she always gets the sack back.

A moment of rest.

A moment of rest.

Maxine is a great problem solver. After receiving a rice ball as part of her special feeding regime, she found that it was a little too warm for her liking. She wrapped the rice ball in a leaf to handle more comfortably. She then blew on the rice ball to cool it further before eating. She ate a little bit and then blew on it again! I am unsure if Maxine has ever seen humans do this before but even if she has, her ability to learn a new behavior and to remember it is quite remarkable. The ability to learn from cultural situations is a trait of animal species with higher intelligence. Some animals are born with all the knowledge they will need in the form of instincts. Some animals can only learn from their mothers. Primates, along with many other species, have the ability to learn from peers. This trait played a major role in primate and human evolution.

Maxine leading her caregiver to her favourite spot.

Maxine leading her caregiver to her favourite spot.

There is nothing that Maxine would rather be doing than exploring the forest. She will play near her caregiver for a few minutes before heading deep into the trees where she can no longer be seen. She always goes to the same spot in the forest; she is looking for ants. Orangutans mainly eat fruit but supplement their diet with insects for protein. She doesn’t mind when the ants resist by crawling on her and biting her. Maxine will remain in her special place for hours where she cannot be seen or heard. Maxine’s caregiver calls to her every few minutes just to let her know that she has not been left alone. When Maxine is exhausted from the forest, she quietly comes back to her caregiver for a piggyback ride home where she stands tall, always on the lookout. In the forest, Maxine is the boss.

Maxine feasting on ants!

Maxine feasting on ants!

Maxine is a gentle orangutan who never bites or pulls too hard. She understands that humans have limitations in the forest (we cannot follow her everywhere) and that we are not the same as her. She acknowledges other orangutans in the forest but chooses to be solitary. On rare occasions she plays with Berman, another female orangutan of the same age and size. They take turns chasing each other, swinging through the trees. Maxine expresses her intelligence, compassion, gentle nature and emotions; a great ambassador for her species. Maybe we can all learn something from Maxine.


  • Sara
    2011-12-23 at 7:12 pm

    My favorite days are when the orangutan of the month is posted and it is no exception today as I learn about Maxine. She is delightful. Thank you for telling me about her. I hope she will be healthy and happy. Sara

  • Rebecca Reeder
    2011-12-24 at 12:00 pm

    Another much appreciated story with interesting details. It is particularly heartwarming that sweet Maxine has an opportunity to live a good life at OFI’s Care Center after the trauma that brought her to us caused such a lengthy setback in her development. The photos are a wonderful accompaniment.

  • Marcia Douthwaite
    2011-12-24 at 9:15 pm

    Maxine is delightful, such a unique personality. Please keep us posted on her progress–I hope she will stay healthy and happy.

  • Mara McCaffery
    2011-12-26 at 12:37 am

    Lovely, well written story – thanks Britta.

  • Cherie Mathis
    2011-12-28 at 11:53 am

    Such a wonderful story. It was great to hear about Maxine. I love hearing about the intelligence of these wonderful animals. Please continue to share their stories and photos.

  • jessica lang
    2011-12-30 at 6:59 am

    Maxine is so sweet and a beautiful soul. God bless her and her kind. I am so happy that I found your group OFI. I will help anyway I can. Next year I will be donating money or sponser. These big company that destroy their habitats should have to pay for their relocation and care. Its no different then a puppy mil. Society cleans up their horrible messes as they could careless what they have to do go get what they want. Its not like we ares talking about a piece of furniture we are talking about life whether human or animal. Thank you for all you do. Never tire cause I won’t either.

  • Wendy Di Paoli
    2012-01-02 at 3:47 am

    Maxine and her ability to undo all the bolts destroying the hammock I’ve done for her in forty seconds..=)

  • Hannah
    2012-01-04 at 7:28 pm

    “Maxine is so amazing and intelligent. I huge fan of OFI and I adore orangutans! This article is beautifully written!”

  • sheena isobel wilson
    2012-01-06 at 11:43 pm

    What an amazing organutan and how very beautifully written! I shall be visiting your site more often now. I am very much looking forward to visiting in June and hope to have the honour of meeting Maxine – perhaps many more. Thank you for all you do!

  • Patric
    2012-01-07 at 1:44 am

    Thanks for sharing!
    One of the best status updates on Facebook is the link to the new Orangutan of the Month.
    Give Maxine an extra tasty hibiscus flower from me 😉

  • Mindy
    2012-01-07 at 11:35 pm

    Beautiful story!!!! She is truly amazing 🙂

  • Asma
    2012-01-16 at 2:45 pm

    My favorite ape is teh Orangutan and I feel so dman excited everytime I learn about new one … they are all lovely clever and so amaizing .. Am happy too read this new story about Maxine .. love it !

  • renee
    2012-01-23 at 9:31 pm

    I love reading the stories of the orangutan of the month. Maxine is so sweet.

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