Orangutans in Indonesia are massively threatened by extinction through deforestation and shrinking habitats. This is why the friendly apes with their reddish hair have already been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for years. They are victims of monoculture farming which destroys their living space – the rainforest – big style. In the last 30 years, the area of rainforest on the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo has almost halved. The reasons are obvious: the increasing demand for agricultural land as well as resources like coal is steadily eliminating the rainforest and with it the gentle apes. The number of orangutan orphans is growing.
Land grabbing destroys the habitat of orangutans
As a result of their shrinking habitat, orangutan mothers are increasingly confronted by human beings. Many apes do not survive these encounters. Their children become orphans. Together with our Indonesian partner organisation, 'Jejak Pulang', we are building a forest school for the orangutan orphans in which they are trained by humans over several years to be able to be released again into the wild as adult animals.
The orangutan forest school
The education of orangutan orphans takes several years. The process makes clear how closely humans and apes resemble each other, as orangutan children reach adulthood at only around 14 years of age. Education begins in infancy or early childhood and continues until the orangutan is old enough to come to terms with life in the wild by itself. This means that training a single orangutan orphan takes over ten years. The biggest challenge in the training process is to create a bond between the orangutan child and its human substitute mother without it becoming too humanized.
Human substitute mothers rear the ape youngsters
It is when they are very small that close contact to an attachment figure is especially important. Like human children, our baby orphans and youngsters need a mother. Because their own mother can no longer take on this role, we have a team of human substitute mothers who lovingly take care of the little ones. At the same time, contact with other orangutan children is crucial for their development. We enable the young apes to lead a normal life in the rainforest, with one exception – their mother is a human. Every day they spend most of the day with members of the same species in the forest. They learn by imitation from their substitute mothers as well as from other apes. Their real mothers would teach them in a similar way. This freedom allows us to prepare the amimals in the best possible way for life in the rainforest. The older they become, the more their substitute mothers and fathers let them go and allow them to independently discover the forest for themselves.
First orangutan orphan in the forest school
The first orangutan orphan has already moved into our forest school in East Kalimantan. His mother was found killed on a palm oil plantation. Local villagers took care of the little one. At the age of around eight months he was confiscated by the Indonesian authorities and handed over to Jejak Pulang. We named the little one Gonda. Little Gonda will spend the next decade in our care and hopefully, as an adult, he will contribute to again increase the orangutan population on Borneo.