An Introduction to Orangutan Foundation International Canada’s Nursery Program in Central Borneo, Indonesia
There are currently over 330 orangutan orphans at the Orangutan Foundation International’s (OFI) Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ) in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. That is 330 individuals to house, care for, and feed. All orphans depend on us to meet their daily needs. These orphans almost always come to the Care Center as infants or juveniles, injured, and/or ill. They are often traumatized, and afraid of humans and new situations. After the harrowing experience of witnessing their mother being killed, and then themselves being pried off their mother’s body against their will, this is not surprising.
Despite this horrible trauma and its long-lasting effects, these resilient infant orangutans manage to make it through the most difficult first days, and come to thrive in the comfort of the infant facility at the OCCQ. Although orangutans are not group-living in the wild, as Dr. Birute Galdikas says in the IMAX movie Born to be Wild featuring herself and the orangutans and staff at the OCCQ, “the most important thing is that the infants are given the love they need, to give them the confidence they will need in the wild”.
The baby orangutans at the OCCQ are affectionately cared for by local women (and some men) who work at the infant facilities. Most of these local people are indigenous Dayaks, whose families would have traditionally lived in the same forests as the families of the orphan orangutans. They provide care 24 hours a day, with staff rotating night and day shifts. These caregivers can often be seen carrying the smallest clinging orphans as they go about their day’s activites, and sleeping side by side with their infant orangutan charges during the night. Aside from midday with its blistering heat and the middle of the night with its pitch blackness, the nursery is a thriving facility with constant action!
Each day begins with staff waking up at daybreak, making, and giving milk to the youngest infants, changing diapers, and washing blankets and towels from the night before. The smallest orphans spend their day either playing together inside the nursery building, or clinging to their “favorite” substitute mother and thus, joining in the work. The larger orphans are brought out into the nursery playground to play as their sleeping enclosures are swept and scrubbed.
The action of the nursery playground is constant, with youngsters roaming freely between the playground ‘jungle-gym’ structure and the real jungle surrounding it. Snacks and drinks are brought out throughout the day as the orphans swing in and out, playing amongst themselves, climbing and hanging in the trees near their caregivers, and sitting side by side with them for some much needed respite in the shade.
As the youngest orphans tire, they are brought in to nap and rest together in the nursery facility. The more active ones will choose to rest but not sleep, while others nap in a quiet corner nestled in blankets in a basket. By the mid afternoon most of the older infants are also hungry, tired, and hot – ready to return to their sleeping enclosures for a meal, a bath, and a rest.
OFI Canada is pleased to support these essential rehabilitation activities by contributing to the funding needed to provide orangutan infants with the fresh food and fruits they need (and eat in the wild) which keeps the orphan youngsters growing and active. During the local fruit season. this means we buy literally tonnes of rambutans, durians, pineapples, oranges, papayas, mangoes and of course, bananas. The infants also get their share of vegetables, including sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, and green beans. These vegetables wouldn’t be in their wild forest diet, but provide important nutrients that theorangutans would be getting from leaves, bark, vines etc. In the wild.
After meals, the orangutans are given a bath: the smaller ones are soaped and rinsed in a sink or bucket and the larger ones play in the spray of a hose. Some orangutans like this more than others but, on the whole, a nice cool splash helps keep the orangutan orphans clean and healthy.
The OCCQ enrichment team often arrives in the afternoon with enrichment parcels, fruit ice, or other treats for the orphans. This enrichment is designed to provide mental stimulation while providing micro-nutrients the infants couldn’t get otherwise. These enrichment items always include local foliage from the forest. The vines, young leaves, termites, and other wild foods help familiarize the small orphans with food items they may encounter in the forest. As the afternoon turns into evening, all of the orangutans at the OCCQ, including the infants, are given freshly-cut leafy branches inside their sleeping enclosures. These branches are very important as orangutan youngsters use them to practice nest-making, an essential skill for a future in the wild. Some of the little ones are better at this than others. It is funny to watch how the more skilled infants are intensely observed by the others, followed by scuffles as branches are stolen and then stolen back.
Inside the orphans’ sleeping enclosures there are permanent enrichment items like barrels, platforms, and swings. These help get the orphans up off the ground, and the barrels are always full with friends nesting together as the day ends.
As the orangutans enjoy their nesting branches, the “Day” staff go home for a much needed rest and the “Night” staff come in. These dedicated people will spend their night watching over the smallest orphans who may cry, need food, or require comforting during the night. Just as infant humans do, these little ones can have bad dreams, hear scary noises, or just need the comfort of a “mother” figure to get them through the night. These caregivers also keep a close eye on the larger infants in their sleeping enclosures to be sure all is well during the night.
As day breaks the cycle starts again, since the joy and responsibility of caring for so many animals never ends. As time goes on, some larger infants may graduate to other facilities, which give them access to taller forest and more experience. Sadly, the number of orphans arriving at the OCCQ has stayed constant over the past several years . As forests are destroyed and more orangutans are pushed from their forest homes, orphans will continue to be rescued and will continue to come to our facilities.
Your support of OFI Canada is much appreciated and needed, as almost 100%of all donated funds go directly to buy fruit for the orphans in the nursery and to pay the salaries of the dedicated staff who care for them. As OFI Canada is a part of the larger OFI community, our important support of the OCCQ allows our partners to direct funds towards purchasing and protecting local forest, building and preparing permanent release stations, and responding to rescues and emergencies like forest fires. Every dollar donated by generous Canadians contributes to the efforts that OFI Canada president Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas began in 1971. Our thanks to you, for showing that you care for our planet’s precious ecosystems and the magnificent animals who inhabit them.