Orangutan of the month May 2020POPPY, Strong and Independent – Official Orangutan Foundation International Site
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There are three identified species of orangutan – the Sumatran, Tapanuli and Bornean. Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) are the third heaviest living primate after two gorilla species. Studies have indicated that there are three subspecies on Borneo. The orangutans of Southwest Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii) are the largest and most populous of the three Bornean subspecies. The wurmbii subspecies is found in the Indonesian provinces of West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

Looking at Poppy there is no argument that she is an orangutan from Central Kalimantan. Cuddly and pleasingly plump would be an apt description for her. It was not always this way as she was found abandoned in an open field near a palm oil plantation. The report in her Care Book at the time of her rescue states that she was, “thin, young, and bald.” Now in her teenage years her hair wildly sprouts all around her head like a lion’s mane. Some females who are rounder than others even look as though they have an adult male’s signature throat pouch.

When you are taking care of over 300 orangutans, there are often individual medical issues. These can range from serious to minor. Poppy has eczema and so she receives daily oral medication. Orangutans mainly like sweet flavors but Poppy slurps her bitter medication down without a fuss.

After morning feeding and enclosure cleaning, the time arrives for the orangutans to go out for forest school. Poppy would prefer to be carried to the forest but, given her size and to save her caregivers’ backs, it is easier that she walks out next to them. Poppy doesn’t seem to mind too much and is always polite, allowing others to go ahead of her. It may be burning hot out in the open field but the canopy offers a cool refuge for all concerned. 

To her caregivers Poppy is an affectionate orangutan. She is inquisitive and when up close, she takes her two index fingers and gently pinches the skin of any newcomer human between those fingers before taking a sniff. However, if the other Rendell ladies are nearby it is a different story. She tolerates their presence but if they get too close, she makes her feelings known by giving them a warning bite. A “Do Not Disturb” sign would come in handy here. 

At first Poppy climbs into the trees slowly but soon enough her eyes light up and she begins to speed up as her senses awaken. She seems to know precisely what path to take. Trees that seem as though they will falter under her sizable weight are stronger then they look. She quickly traverses them and sits up high gazing off into the forest in the distance. Orangutans always seem to feel safer when up a good height in the trees. In Poppy’s sleeping enclosure she enjoys sitting in a half cut blue barrel that resembles a little ship. When she first arrived at Camp Rendell, her sleeping enclosure needed a makeover as initially she didn’t have a sleeping platform to climb onto for the night. But the enrichment team soon arrived with tools and a generator. The platform was installed and Poppy immediately took to it, bringing her blue barrel half up there with her to serve as a “surrogate “nest. She piles the branches given out every evening by the staff to line her blue “nest” structure before she goes to sleep for the night.

Back in the forest Poppy wedges herself between two trees with her back resting on one that leans over on a right angle. She uses it like a recliner as she treats the jungle like a spa. Not every tree can support her as this is still a growing secondary forest with relatively small trees. When she misjudges a branch which snaps under her grasp, she scrambles to stabilise herself. Her overconfidence sometimes gets the better of her. Hopefully, she will exercise a little more caution in the future.


Poppy, like most orangutans, is food orientated and most of her pursuits are with food in mind. If a wheelbarrow containing fruits such as rambutan or papaya is left near her enclosure, an arm will shoot out and try to grab it.  Orangutans have long arms reaching up to several feet in length but even with the best will in the world Poppy can’t quite reach the fruit. Luckily for her, she doesn’t have to wait very long before the assistants hand out the fruit, water, and milk.  

Around noon she makes her way down from the trees. A silent lunch gong has rung in her head. Poppy turns her back to her caregivers conspiratorially. She wants to be the only recipient of any food she finds herself and she doesn’t want any of the other orangutans to know.

On the ground she begins scraping away the leaves and running her hands through the Earth. She is in search of something. She continues digging a hole and produces a dark hand sized shape. This is a termite nest. She dismissively tosses away any old nests and gorges herself on the fresh one. With no holes to easily access her food, she cracks the nest on the side of the tree. Shards fly forth and termites begin tumbling out. As Poppy brings it to her mouth to devour them, some can’t help getting caught up in her mane. These can be saved for later.  There is an audible whooshing noise as she sucks the termites from their nest. Once finished, she walks around the tree roots to see if she can locate any more nests. She digs through the dirt like a child digging holes in sand on the beach. Poppy is a master at finding ant and termite nests and can spend hours doing this. She has a healthy appetite and a cool attitude.  

Termites provide an excellent, relatively easy source of protein. Orangutans have a varied diet and other sources of protein may consist of smaller mammals. Sumatran orangutans have even been observed consuming slow lorises, small nocturnal primates who sleep in tree holes during the day.

Poppy is a very matter of fact orangutan. She knows her own mind. When she sets herself an agenda, she sees it through to the end. Strong and independent, Poppy is sure to soon no longer need help from humans. Then she can return to the great forest where she was born.





One Comment

  • Almost Jane
    2020-05-25 at 6:55 PM

    I enjoyed reading Poppy’s story. She sounds like a very sweet & smart lady. I hope she continues to be happy & healthy. Thank you for all you do to help orangutans.

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