When I first saw Victor ambling down the boardwalk at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ), the first thing I noticed was his smile. His mouth is almost always turned up at the corners and looks like a slow smile is about to spread across his face. As I have gotten to know Victor better, I have learned that this smiley guy is an incredibly clever and gentle orangutan.
Victor arrived at the OCCQ when he was less than a year old. He was being kept as a pet and was confiscated by officers of the Indonesian Forestry Department and brought to the OCCQ for rehabilitation. In the years following his arrival, Victor has received constant love and encouragement from the staff. This has seen Victor grow into a mild-mannered and friendly “young man.”
It is impossible to say much about Victor without first mentioning his best friend, Sam. The two are practically inseparable. Occasionally, they will each go off to explore the forest on their own; however, they will check-in on each other constantly. Even when the two are going out for their daily climb in the forest, they insist on going together! Each morning, the OCCQ caregivers take the orangutans from their sleeping enclosures into the forest. Many of the orangutans will walk holding their caregiver’s hand or will climb onto their back for a piggyback ride. When Victor and Sam go to the forest, one will ride on the caregiver’s back, and the other on the caregiver’s front.
Once in the forest, Victor can be too timid to leave the boardwalk and explore. With a bit of gentle encouragement from his caregiver and Sam, Victor finds his confidence and will meticulously begin to climb trees. Many other orangutans Victor’s age will haphazardly navigate through the forest. They will wrestle, tumble, and crash through the trees. Victor, on the other hand, moves deliberately, and will quietly maneuver past other more rambunctious orangutans.
Once in the forest, one of Victor’s favorite activities is to forage for termite nests. Victor and Sam’s caregivers have been teaching the two to look for, and dig up, this source of protein. While Sam will go off and look for termite nests on his own, Victor is more of a manager. Victor prefers to oversee his caregivers retrieving the nests rather than get his hands dirty. Using a stick, his caregivers will tap on the ground waiting to hear a “thunk, thunk” sound. Once they hear that sound, Victor’s caregivers will start digging up the nest. Victor will sit nearby observing. If the retrieval process seems to be taking too long, Victor will go and peer over his caregivers’ shoulder as a reminder that he is still waiting for his snack. If his caregivers do not find a nest, Victor will go and find Sam. Although orangutans are not typically generous with their food, Sam always shares his termite nests with Victor.
Once Victor has a termite nest to eat, he will search for a private place to enjoy it. When orangutans eat termite nests, they often get little bites on their hands from the termites defending the nest. After Victor has a few nips on his hands, he will throw his nest on the ground in frustration. Rather than abandon his treat, Victor will then position himself over the nest so that he can eat using only his lips.
When Victor is eating his termite nests, he constantly scans the trees around him to ensure there aren’t any orangutans coming to steal his treat. If another orangutan appears, he will stealthily try to move to another place. If the other orangutan spots him, Victor will give his nest away. Rather than dwell on his lost snack, Victor will go and find his caregiver or Sam so that they can start searching for a new termite nest. Victor is truly a gentle, mild orangutan who does not engage much in rough and tumble play or conflict.
The relationships Victor has formed with Sam and the caregivers at the OCCQ have helped him become a more confident orangutan. Although Victor seems to live by the motto “work smart, not hard,” his forestry skills are constantly strengthening. Eventually Victor will put these forestry skills to good use when someday he returns to the wild.
Watch Victor carefully eat termite nests