Our Post-Release Monitoring (PRM) team at Lesik Camp, in the Kehje Sewen Forest of East Kalimantan, has a plethora of stories to tell. Observing released orangutans is never dull. Since orangutans are extremely intelligent great apes with unique individual personalities, each day can bring the unexpected.
Our teams have experienced the full range of encounters during their work, from the exciting and fun, to the tense and unnerving. Due to their past trauma, the behaviour of a rehabilitated orangutan can change in a moment’s notice.
An orangutan can fall into a seeming ‘routine’ of behaviours for a few days, and then appear to completely change the next day. It can be even more confusing, as the factors that trigger these changes are not always clear to the PRM team. Therefore, it is very important to know each orangutan’s personality, especially those who can be aggressive.
Two of the latter are Mona and Marlies, who both have a strong dislike of humans. Marlies even gets goosebumps when she spots humans, indicating her anger. When in this agitated state, Marlies can be unpredictable, so the team always stays alert and will take the necessary precautions to avoid an unexpected encounter with her. “In the worst-case scenario, we simply jump into the river”, the PRM team reports, “as orangutans can’t swim”. When Marlies knows there is a barrier between her and the humans, she always calms down and moves on.
And then there are the curious ones who can’t take their eyes off the equipment our technicians carry. Despite deliberate attempts to avoid taking colourful items into the forest that might attract an orangutan’s interest, some determined and sly individuals still find ways to catch the team off guard. Among them, Robert and Ung are the master thieves. “We have to be very careful to keep a close eye on their movements when observing them, to avoid any theft!”
We are highly impressed with these released orangutans’ ability to adapt to their forest environment, where they face daily competition and challenges. We know that the attributes that make our teams’ job a bit more difficult, such as a dislike for humans and boundless curiosity, are still positive as they increase these orangutans’ ability to face any challenge that life in the forest may bring to them.