Selecting just one orangutan for orangutan of the month has proven to be a much more difficult task than I had originally anticipated. There are over 330 orangutans at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) and each one has unique traits, quirks and stories. Steppenwolf was one of the first infant orangutans I met when I arrived at OCCQ in early-January 2012, and I was instantly drawn to him.

It is easy to see how Steppenwolf could capture a person’s heart. With his tufts of glossy hair and expressive face, Steppenwolf is a very cute infant orangutan. However, what really stood out were his eyes. Orangutans have expressive and thoughtful eyes, but when I first looked into Steppenwolf’s eyes, I felt like an old soul was staring back at me.

Relaxing after a long day of playing

Relaxing after a long day of playing

Steppenwolf is approximately two-years old. There is no doubt that he has seen a lot in that short period of time. Steppenwolf is one of the newer arrivals to the Care Center. Little is known about his life before he came into OFI’s care; however, we do know that he was brought to us as a result of palm oil. He came from a palm oil plantation close to one of OFI’s orangutan release sites. When Steppenwolf arrived at the OCCQ, he was very skinny, weighing only 3.5kg (8lbs), and had burns on his hands and feet. No information was given on how he had received these burns or where his mother was. Infant orangutans spend the first several years of their lives entirely dependent on their mother, so the chance that Steppenwolf was voluntarily separated from his mother is unlikely. Although we can only speculate, it is most likely that his mother was killed.

In his short time at the OCCQ, Steppenwolf has been healing and growing rapidly. His burn marks are no longer visible and it seems that his emotional scars are also diminishing. Thanks to Steppenwolf’s love of milk and rambutans – a red tropical fruit with soft red spines – he now weighs 5kg (11lbs). Steppenwolf spends most of his time with Miss Tika, his surrogate mother. Like an orangutan mother, she carries, cuddles, and feeds Steppenwolf. Young orangutans learn the forestry skills needed for survival from their mothers. This includes where to find food, what food to eat, how to eat it, and how to build a nest. Miss Tika will spend the next few years caring for Steppenwolf and helping him develop these skills.

When Steppenwolf first arrived, he seemed nervous interacting with other orangutans his age. However, recently Steppenwolf’s timidness has faded and he has become an inquisitive and social little boy. He still relies heavily on Miss Tika, but he has also started to form friendships with the other infant orangutans. Turner, Charlie, Melly, and Steppenwolf have become constant playmates. One of my favourite things to do is sit and watch the four friends chase each other across the forest floor, rolling and somersaulting before landing in a giant heap on the ground.

Melly and Steppenwolf (right) foraging for leaves

Melly and Steppenwolf (right) foraging for leaves

Steppenwolf is a bit hesitant to leave the ground. His friend Melly is an avid climber and Steppenwolf will carefully mirror her movements as he follows her up a small tree. Once in the tree, the two will forage for leaves and fruits to eat. When Steppenwolf is back on the ground, he loves to play in the dirt. He loves to roll in it, eat it, and throw it on himself as if he’s having a dirt shower! Steppenwolf’s aim still needs some improvement, so the orangutans or caregivers sitting nearby often end up having a dirt shower as well.

Steppenwolf finding some dirt to play with

Steppenwolf finding some dirt to play with

When Steppenwolf has exhausted himself playing, he will go and find Miss Tika for a cuddle. While he is unwinding, Steppenwolf will lay on his back staring up into the trees. He seems to be soothed by the sounds of the rustling trees and humming insects. When I watch Steppenwolf, I feel like I am watching him regain some of the childhood innocence that he lost when he was separated from his mother. OFI has given Steppenwolf a second chance at life in the wild. The OCCQ will provide him with the safe haven and love that he needs to learn the forest skills that will one day make him an excellent wild orangutan.

Climbing trees

Climbing trees

11 Comments

  • Sara
    2012-03-07 at 6:01 pm

    Can I adopt Steppenwolf? Sara a

  • Karen Carter
    2012-03-07 at 7:04 pm

    Selamat siang, Ibu Birute. Terima kasih untuk kerja Anda. Aku berterima kasih ini banyak sekali. I just watched your film clip again. Haven’t seen it for a while, but cry every time. Aku belajar bahasa Indonesia saat ini dan satu hari, aku harap pergi di Indonesia menolong dengan orangutan. Saya kembali saja dari Lombok. Aku belajar bahasa Indonesia di Universitas Mataram.
    Salam kepada Anda,
    Karen

  • Sue Schofield
    2012-03-07 at 8:16 pm

    I went to Panjang Puting last year with OFI and was priviledged to meet Dr Birute – and the wonderful orangutans. As she said my experience there was life changing…
    It breaks my heart to know of the relentless destruction of their habitat by palm oil plantations. I will continue to support OFI and do what I can to help….and I WILL get back there to help!

  • Marcia Douthwaite
    2012-03-08 at 9:14 pm

    Steppenwolf is a charming fellow, thank you so much for the photos and remarks about his progress.

  • Dee Needham
    2012-03-16 at 2:52 pm

    The cutest thing I’ve ever seen!!

  • Jutta Maue-Kay
    2012-04-27 at 12:51 pm

    what a little cutie and what an honour for my hubby. I’m looking forward to meeting this little fellow soon

  • CONNIE WRIGHT
    2012-05-01 at 12:27 pm

    STEPPENWOLF IS ADORABLE. THANKS FOR THE STORY, AND THE WONDERFUL PHOTOS. I HATE TO HEAR OF ANY ABUSE OF ANY ANIMAL. PLEASE KEEP US POSTED ON STEPPENWOLF, THE INCREDIBLY MAGNIFICENT ORANGUTAN. I LOVE HIS EYES, HE IS SOOOOO PRECIOUS, YOU JUST WANT TO REACH THROUGH THE COMPUTER, AND GIVE HIM A BIG HUG. GOOD LUCK BABY STEPPENWOLF, MAY YOU GROW UP BIG, AND STRONG.

  • CONNIE WRIGHT
    2012-05-01 at 12:43 pm

    I JUST GOT ON TO SHOP, AND NOTICED THAT THE BORN TO BE WILD 3D DVD IS SOLD OUT. WILL YOU BE GETTING MORE IN STOCK? PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU DO, IF YOU WILL, I WANT ONE, AND POSSIBLY MORE THAN ONE.
    HERE’S A SUGGESTION, IF IT ALREADY HAS NOT BEEN SUGGESTED: CAN YOU MAKE UP A POSTER OF STEPPENWOLF, THE LAST ONE ON THIS SITE, THE ONE WHERE HE IS IN A TREE, MUNCHING ON A VINE, OR SOMETHING. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE. I TAKE CARE OF LITTLE ONES IN MY HOME, AND WHEN THEY SAW STEPPENWOLF, THEY ALL WENT CRAZY, THEY JUST LOVED HIM. THIS SHOT OF HIM WOULD MAKE A VERY CUTE POSTER, INDEAD. THANKS, I HOPE YOU TAKE IT INTO CONSIDERATION.

  • Elena
    2012-05-14 at 5:18 am

    Another beautiful post Jenna, which I think intgreates the narrow dietary (ingredients based) sense of what is vegan with its broader sense of anti-oppression.And apart from the fact of a product being unethical or not vegan in terms of its impact on the ecosystem, other species and other people, the post also led my thinking to the basic question of what after all is food for the human species.In the wild, animals have, as we know, a limited food inventory: they eat a few dozen different foods throughout the different seasons of the year.It is as if the food in the ecosystem is the whole pie and every creature has been allocated a small share of it.But while this is instinctively followed by animals in the wild, man has exceeded his own little share of the pie and considers almost everything on the planet as food. In the era of the corporate control of food, people have been conditioned away from the natural standard of the specific food inventory for each species to the idea that the myriads of the food industry products (vegan or not) are food.This in turn means that man is now eating the whole pie, thus disrupting the natural order and stealing the food and the habitat of the other species.Perhaps a priority for the vegan movement would be to help clarify in the collective consciousness what is food for man. This won’t be an arbitrary view but it will be based on sound science: the digestive anatomy of man (frugivore) and the natural standard of the food inventory. Here the expertise of the raw vegan movement might be helpful.I think this is a crucial matter that can hopefully demolish the speciesist conditioning of what people have learned to consider as food and advance widely the issue of anti-oppression as well as give us again control over our food.

  • Sasinopaster
    2012-05-14 at 5:56 am

    I’ve heard about the palm oil situation often, but I’m not colpelmed to avoid palm oil in the same way that I’m colpelmed to avoid beef or cheese.It’s important to distinguish between a boycott against non sustainable, non fair trade, non organic palm oil versus something that is not a boycott: veganism. Boycotts are a method of protest. Boycotts are temporary. Boycotts are about avoiding particular brands or particular products in order to encourage companies to change their ways.Veganism is about avoiding animal products. Period.If the standard for why vegans should avoid certain products is simply the harm they cause without any consideration given to intervening causes, indirection, intent, practicality, and long-term solutions, then virtually all products are not vegan. It wouldn’t stop at palm oil, coffee, sugar, chocolate (and other food items that are unnecessary and often not organic or fair trade). The boycott would go on and on and on. But as vegans, we ought to consider what products we avoid because they are directly and utterly harmful versus what products are harmful only in some circumstances. Boycott palm oil that is not sustainable or boycott all palm oil simply because it’s easier. But don’t say that palm oil isn’t vegan.

  • 2012-05-31 at 2:57 am

    The Indian government encourages everyone to use them by giving them at a subsidized rate but the doctors have not come out openly to say whether its healthy or not.But privately they advice not to use for cooking

    So I would like to know whether palm oil is injurious to health if its used for cooking
    Thanks so much for your concern Maria

    Can you say whether oils like Rice Bran oil or Sun-flower is safe to use?

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