“Monroe” is unlike any other orangutan that I have met at the Orangutan Foundation International’s (OFI) Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Pasir Panjang, Central Indonesian Borneo. Although still a juvenile, Monroe has already developed a sparkling personality and a quirkiness that is unique among her peers. Monroe marches to the beat of her own drum and the OFI staff and volunteers love her for it. Sociable and sweet-natured, Monroe enjoys making her caregivers laugh. On her daily forest outings, she’s been known to hang around a tree limb by her two strong arms and then ‘drop down’ onto her caregivers. A little mischievous, Monroe likes to play this joke on her caregivers when they least expect it! They usually reward her by laughing.
Her playful sense of humor is just one of Monroe’s greatest personality points but she can also leave you guessing with her free-willed nature. When you see Monroe swinging through the forest, it seems as though she is in a world of her own. She is very happy to make her own fun. Then suddenly, she will turn her dark piercing eyes on you, giving you a look that seems to ask a thousand questions. Yet at the same time, she radiates a serene calm. There is mystery to this fun-loving ‘free bird’ but she’s not giving all her cards away at once. Monroe is an orangutan with a wild spirit which is why she is this month’s Orangutan of the Month!
Monroe was orphaned as a tiny infant, arriving at the OFI Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) at about seven months of age. Now a juvenile, Monroe has adjusted well to life with the other orphans at the OCCQ. Monroe shares a sleeping enclosure with friends Nawi and Glenda. These three have formed a close bond although once they are out in the forest, the trio often split up to savor some alone time. While she loves to be in the forest, Monroe is still building her confidence in terms of climbing. Monroe prefers not to be too high or too far away from her caregivers. She will happily climb or swing on the thick vines that hang low from trees and allow her quick access to the forest floor. From this vantage point, she can hang down, foraging for leaves and poking around for termites. Termites are a favorite forest treat for many of the orphans. Monroe has a quick eye for finding them. Once Monroe has found the perfect spot to dig for termites, she doesn’t like to use her hands. Instead Monroe will pick up a stick and start digging with the stick, often glancing up with her dark eyes to see if you are watching her. Monroe doesn’t mind an audience and will proudly show off her excellent digging skills for anyone who cares to watch.
It is safe to say that Monroe enjoys being in the forest and practicing her many jungle skills. This also includes her passion for nest making. Much like her digging, Monroe is such a good nest maker that she will take any chance she can to show off her skills. This might mean that she makes a nest in a tree, or even perhaps on the wooden boardwalk that runs through the OFI nursery forest. One day Monroe began to collect leaves and branches from surrounding trees. Taking time and care to select branches pliable enough to bend, Monroe began to make a nest of branches on the wooden boardwalk. This boardwalk was constructed to assist the caretakers in moving around the peat swamp forest, especially when there has been much rain and the water is really high in the forest. Curious as to what Monroe was doing, I watched her as she went back and forth multiple times to collect leaves and branches. Finally, she climbed onto the wooden boardwalk and began to demonstrate her nest making skills. Monroe slowly began to select the best branches and pressed them onto themselves and wove them together to form a nest. You could almost assume that she was holding a tutorial for her caregivers and the other orangutans on how to construct a nest!
On another occasion, during a very hot day in Pasir Panjang, Monroe decided she needed to cool off. She stepped into a puddle of water and began to splash and pour the water over herself. Monroe continued playing in the water, digging in the mud with her two hands and pouring water over herself to stay cool. Her caregivers were saying that Monroe was ‘fishing’ in the water. Monroe started washing her face with the water as though she was giving herself a special forest mud mask. There was a ray of sunlight streaming through the treetops and it lit up Monroe’s beautiful orange hair as she splashed in the water. Suddenly, a thought struck Monroe. This puddle could be the perfect place to make a nest! Monroe began to stamp down and bend the ferns and branches that were already in the puddle. Pulling nearby leaves from trees, Monroe constructed herself a water nest. Once it was completed, she settled down for a brief moment in her watery nest before diving into the trees and beginning to climb again, grabbing a handful of leaves and placing them over her head as she went. As Monroe stopped and gazed upwards at the clouds with her forest headpiece sitting on her head, she looked very much the unique orangutan that she is!
As Monroe grows older, we look forward to watching her continue to build her independence. This means her spending more time off the forest floor and higher in the forest canopy. We can’t wait to see Monroe holding another one of her nest-making “tutorials” for her friends in the canopy of the OFI nursery forest. This unique girl is such a joy to be around but when the time comes, we will be happy to reintroduce her back to the great primeval Bornean forest where she belongs. If any orangutan was “born to be wild”, it is most certainly Monroe! We will be proud to see the day when she returns to the wild content to be herself.