AN ORANGUTAN ADVENTURE – 7 FACTS YOU MAY NOT KNOW!
Samboja Lestari Orangutan Sanctuary
Samboja Lestari Sanctuary is in East Kalimantan, Indonesia/Borneo, a short drive from the capital city of Balikpapan. The area is known for its huge palm oil plantations and open coal mining. Whilst these offer much needed local employment and subsistence, they are drastically affecting the environment. Massive loss of forest habitat and native animals is endangering the orangutan and sunbear. Samboja is one of a few sanctuaries trying to save the Indonesian orangutan from extinction.
FACT 1. ALMOST HUMAN
They say orangutans share 98% of our DNA. It is quite interesting to go face to face with an animal that at times is like looking in a mirror. Their facial expressions are so human like with very similar mannerisms. They look at you with piercing eyes that just burn into your heart.
FACT 2. SOLITARY OR FAMILY GROUPS?
Orangutans are generally solitary animals, especially with competition for food. The captive orangutans at Samboja demonstrated amazing group interactions and family behaviour which is quite unusual in the wild.
FACT 3. LOVE OR HATE WATER?
Orangutans don’t like getting wet. They hate it. They hide under trees, hut roofs and blue enrichment plastic barrels. In fact anything just not to get rained on. We even saw one putting large leaves on its head or a piece of broken plastic as an umbrella.
But whilst they hate rain, some younger orangs love to play with water from a hose. One would sit for hours having her feet and hands hosed for fun, just like their junior human counterparts might do.
FACT 4. SEXY PRIMATES!
Male orangs are quite sexually active. If a male volunteer approaches, they would often show their dominance by grabbing a female and have sex with her to ‘show off’. Bonobo monkeys are not the only primates practising ‘quickies’. Shame these male initiated events are not always consensual.
If a male orangutan likes a female keeper, he will often show his penis to her as a sign of affection – sound familiar?
FACT 5. TUBERCULOSIS, A COMMON PROBLEM
Orangutans are prone to tuberculosis, with quite a few rescued animals being infected and needing quarantine. Even once treated and cured, ‘ex-TB’ animals can never be released back to the wild for fear of re-activation. They are housed separate from the other captive animals to prevent re-infection. In this part of remote Borneo laboratory testing for TB can take months. This necessitates solitary confinement all that time. Improving this situation is a work in progress.
FACT 6. PLAYFUL AND INTELLIGENT
Orangutans are highly intelligent and so in captivity, they are often given ropes or rubberised play structures as well as ‘enrichment parcels’. These include short sections of bamboo containing smeared porridge or tampeh and soy bean mix with a few dried fruit pieces or peanuts.
The parcels given were often larger than the size of the wire of the quarantine cages. Their ingenuity in opening the parcels whilst holding them outside the cage wire was a feat worth watching! Their amazing strong fingers and teeth could bite and easily crack the thick bamboo to get to the delicious contents.
Other enrichment parcels were ice blocks of fruit or caffeine free herbal tea wrapped in cellophane. They would make a hole in it and then peel it back to get at the flavoured ice in a very neat and delicate action.
FACT 7. HAPPY OR SAD?
How can you tell when an orangutan is happy? They drop their bottom lip. And when they are not happy, they show their teeth as a sign of aggression, so always be on the alert. They may appear relatively small and playful, but even a small baby orangutan can be extremely strong.
Photos by Irene Isaacson (who paid for all her own expenses).