Orangutans acquire many important skills throughout the rehabilitation process. They must learn how to identify trees, climb them, and build nests in them, in addition to the very foundational skills of how to forage for food and how to identify and avoid dangers.
In Forest School, young, orphaned orangutans learn a lot from their human surrogate mothers, and, as they get older, they start to pick up more and more from their peers. This is exactly how Rachel, a 5-year-old female orangutan at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan, has begun to refine her skills – by observing and copying Jessi, an older peer and avid climber.
One day, Jessi climbed up a large tree with Rachel following closely behind, moving from branch to branch. It was around noon when the scorching heat made Jessi feel thirsty. She climbed down to the forest floor to grab a drink from a surrogate mother, who promptly called over the other members of Group 3 before Jessi could guzzle down all the milk.
Rachel, who was still up in a tree, heard the call. She appeared thirsty as well, as she immediately started to climb down. However, she seemed to be having trouble and suddenly stopped moving. She needed to brachiate to make it safely down to the ground, but the branches of the nearest tree were just out of her reach.
Rachel obviously knew that there was only one way down but didn’t seem to feel comfortable with this option. Confused, she looked left and right, searching for alternatives. She tried to shimmy down the tree trunk, but it was too big for her to wrap her arms around. Rachel cried out for help, but there was nothing her surrogate mother could do to help her, aside from encouraging her to keep trying.
Rachel soon realised that if she wanted to get down to the ground, she would have to work out a way all by herself. She again looked around for the nearest tree branch but was still unable to reach it. Then, she spotted a much smaller branch and carefully grabbed it. Rachel swung from the small branch over to a much larger one and reached out to grasp it. She repeated this method until she had finally made it safely to the ground.
Rachel’s surrogate mother was proud to see her persistence pay off, and welcomed her with the soy milk she had been working so hard to reach. Way to go, Rachel! Always maintain your thirst for learning new skills.