Orangutans Acting Wild: Building Nests, Making Friends, and Eating Upon Release into the Forest

With the release of four orangutans, Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) has now released a total of twenty-seven individuals into the wild during 2017. Two females, Sindora and Sullivan, and two males, Scotch and Murray, were the most recent orangutan releases into Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Borneo, Indonesia. The release site, an area of lush tropical rain forest submerged in translucent, tea-coloured water, has no permanent residents apart from OFI staff who monitor released orangutans. The site is a place of beauty and tranquility.

OFI President Dr Biruté Mary Galdikas was accompanied on the release by son Fred, OFI Rescue and Release Team staff, members of the Forestry Department, and Park guests as well as the head of Tanjung Puting National Park, Pak Helmie.  “We are committed with the National Park to protect this forest,” Dr Galdikas explained during her speech in Bahasa Indonesia and English, “so orangutans can be as safe as possible given the uncertainties of this world.”

The first orangutan to be released was 13 year old adolescent female Sindora. When the door of her transport cage opened, she stepped out onto the feeding platform and moved around, while gazing up at the trees as if to ascertain where she was. Then she ducked under the platform and drank water from the deep swamp below. The second female, Sullivan, also 13, joined Sindora, drinking and splashing water all over her face. In the Bornean jungle, it’s almost always hot.

Three orangutans who had been released the previous week, sub-adult males Bro, Groningan, and Oru soon made an appearance.  Observing this week’s release, Oru positioned himself above the platform in a nearby tree. Adolescent female Sullivan climbed closer, and allowed Oru to nuzzle her face. This moment stole the hearts of the watching guests who were thrilled to see normally solitary orangutans acting socially. Just like human teenagers, adolescent orangutans enjoy being social, much more than staid orangutan adults do.

Sindora was anxious for the third orangutan, a male named Scotch, to be released. She tried to undo the lock to his transport cage herself several times. But upon release Scotch ignored Sindora and moved to feed into the palms by the river edge.

Finally male Murray was released.  He moved straight toward the milk and fruit provided on the platform. Then, following Scotch, Murray moved to the river-edge where he began eating vines and palms.  A few hours later, Murray built a nest.  Nobody was surprised. OFI does not release ex-captive orangutans until they demonstrate an ability to build tree nests. Building tree nests is one of a number of forest skills all orangutans must demonstrate, while being rehabilitated at OFI’s Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine, before they can be released.

In 2017 Sindora, Sullivan, Scotch and Murray joined a growing group of orangutans who have returned to the wild. Their release fulfils the rehabilitative goals set forth by Dr Galdikas and her OFI team, and signifies hope for the survival of wild orangutan populations. The entire release was a deep glimpse into a peaceful benign world of serenity, eating, and friendship typical of young orangutan life before the burdens of adulthood appear. Severe competition among males and child-rearing for females will soon change the carefree life of the released orangutan adolescents as they move into adulthood. New responsibilities and new anxieties take over. Orangutans really aren’t that different from humans, after all.

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