The Sumatra orangutan is at risk of extinction. But some are still kept as pets. The Indonesian government has been working with international organisations, such as the Zoological Society of Frankfurt, to free the orangutans, so to speak, and get them used to their original natural habitat -- not an easy task.
Some Indonesian orangutans are kept as pets, others are learning to adapt to the jungle -- they are at risk of extinction
A school for orangutans. That’s what people call the re-introduction site, where animals are released back into the wild. The site is located in Bukit Tigapulah, 250 kilometres from Jambi on the island of Sumatra. The orangutans, who have mainly lived among people, are learning that they are actually orangutans.
The biologist Peter Pratje was given the task of relocating the apes. He explained why Bukit Tigapuluh was an ideal spot: “One prerequisite for the re-introduction of Sumatra orangutans is that they have to be located to an area, which was the original habitat but which no longer has a wild population.”
“We think the original wild population was wiped out by tribal people who came to Bukit Tigapulah about 150 years ago. The tribal peoples, who are experts in forest hunting, were able to eradicate the population very fast.”
Teaching jungle survival methods
Peter Pratje has about 20 colleagues on the site. Their task is to teach the half-tame animals to survive in the jungle. For instance, they have to learn how to climb after years of being in cages, or being led by the hand.
Marni and Carolin, two inseparable young orangutans, get the hang of it fast -- climbing one tree and swinging to the next. But not all the orangutans are as gifted as they are. Jenggo has discovered us and clings to our legs. Jenggo is a problem case.
“We’ve got some problem orangutans, which were brought up in families,” explains Pratje. “Ironically, they behave like family members. Jenggo is fine in the jungle; he can find food and sleeps in a sleeping nest like a wild orang-utan, but he also wants to make contact as soon as he sees a person. It takes years until such orangutans adapt -- some never quite manage it.“
Meals are part of learning proceess
It is lunch time. Meal times are not only about food but are an integral part of the learning process. The site manager, Julius, distributes sacks full of different leaves.
“The sacks are tied up. They have to learn how to open them. We’ve filled them with different leaves. Some can be eaten, some not. Same for the fruit -- they need to find out which ones are edible. It’s like a learning game for the orangutans.”
It’s an important survival game. The school for orangutans is all about survival. When the trainers think the time has come, the orangutans will be let out into the wild and they won’t have a choice but to survive.