Pola came to Camp Leakey in the mid-1970s as a young juvenile orphan along with other notables like Princess, Unyuk and Tutut. During that time, Pola joined one of the original sign learning projects I was conducting as a graduate student working with Dr. Galdikas.
Like Princess, Pola was given a home-reared environment within which to learn his signs. Pola’s teachers were mainly Indonesian graduate students serving as my counterparts while in Indonesia. As a sign learning student, Pola was not as accomplished as Princess nor as as motivated as the other orangutan students. Pola used to whimper when he was taken to his classroom for the (probably) monotonous training sessions that occurred twice a day.
Following his lessons, Pola would storm out of the classroom like a mini-bulldozer, pounding his fists into the ground as he made his way into the forest for a brief recess. Students and staff would frequently have to climb the trees to convince Pola to return to their care
Pola continued his rehabilitation to life in the forest following the end of my signing studies in 1980. By the mid- 1990s, Pola had become an impressive adult male who was a regular visitor to Camp Leakey. When I came to visit Camp Leakey one year, I came across Pola resting along one of the trails around Camp Leakey. What could I do to see if Pola remembered me? I picked up a leaf, held it in front of Pola and asked him in Indonesian and sign language, “What’s this?”.; Imagine my surprise when Pola, in classic form, whimpered like a juvenile then stormed away to the forest!
Pola has been absent from Camp Leakey for several years now. We think he was out competed by Kusasi as the resident, dominant male and is somewhere in Tanjung Puting – probably glad he doesn’t have to endure any more signing lessons!