Sitting in the nursery forest at OFI’s Orangutan Care Centre & Quarantine, I scan the treetops unsuccessfully for “Penelope Cruz”- not the famous female actor, but rather the orangutan I am here to observe. Suddenly, a passing tree branch slaps me in the face. I look up to see Penelope pass me without a backward glance, a handful of branches in tow. She settles herself near me and begins to carefully construct a nest, peeking at me from time to time.
My first impression is that she is purposely avoiding me. However, I notice that Penelope is slowly moving closer until she is sitting in front of me. As she sits with her back to me, she continues to weave the branches and leaves she collected into an intricate nest. Every so often, she looks skyward to check-in on her friends playing in the trees. Suddenly, Penelope Cruz swivels around and hands me her creation. As she gazes at me with her big brown eyes, I feel a connection with this kind and sweet orangutan. But fast forward a few minutes and the tender moment has been replaced by her determined attempts to steal my camera, push me into a puddle, and then climb into the forest canopy and out of sight.
While Penelope Cruz has a unique personality, she tends to be shy when you first meet her. Penelope is a slender orangutan, and she uses this to her advantage slinking away more quickly than some of the larger juvenile female orangutans. For this reason, it took me nine months to get to know her and I am so glad that I did! Once you get to know her, Penelope Cruz’s personality sparkles. She loves playing in the forest and in the trees. Her particular forte is foraging for tasty snacks and she seems to know the best leaves and seeds to sample. Penelope is also an expert nest maker and loves to show off her skills at any opportunity, as she did with me earlier.
Penelope arrived at the OCCQ a number of years ago, a tragic victim of deforestation. She was found as an infant when forest was being opened up for a palm oil plantation. Presumably her mother was killed in that process and she was orphaned as a result. When she arrived at the OCCQ, Penelope Cruz, like many of the orphans, was traumatized by the loss of her mother. She was slow to gain weight and very reserved. Today, Penelope is now a young adolescent orangutan who loves to spend time in the learning forest. She is still much smaller than her peers, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping up with them. Although she does show an independent streak in the forest, she always keeps tabs on where her friends – Roberta, Dr. Ann, and Monroe – as they play around her. She will occasionally engage in play with her friends, but as long as Penelope knows where her friends are, she is happy.
It is very evident that Penelope Cruz loves her caregiver, Ibu Litik, and the two share a special bond. During forest play time, Penelope will often steal over to Ibu Litik to sit with her. On some occasions, Penelope will select tasty leaves and drop them into her caregiver’s lap as a kind gesture. Ibu Litik very much enjoys spending time with Penelope, but often encourages her to climb into the trees and spend more time off the ground. Under Ibu Litki’s reassuring watch, Penelope feels safe and content to climb higher in the tree tops. During her daily forest time, Penelope will often dive headfirst figuratively into the trees. With her lithe figure she moves quickly and it is tricky to keep up with her. Typically, she is on a mission to find the best tasting leaves. Other times she is simply seeking a little bit of solitude and can be found playing in the pools of water that form on the forest floor. Penelope loves playing in the water – either splashing it with her hands or using a branch to dig into puddles to see what she can stir up from the depths.
Penelope Cruz’s love of the forest is evident and her knowledge of trees and leaves seems extensive. As she grows older, she will continue to spend less time on the forest floor and more time in the trees. Penelope Cruz is a special orangutan who captured my heart (I got over being pushed in a puddle) and I cannot wait for the day when she is making a nest in the wild like she was born to do.