“Yooo! Buah, yooo!”, it resounds through our Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan every morning around 8 o’clock. It is the call of the surrogate mothers to signal the little students in their enclosures that it is time to eat fruit and head to school.
Mornings are typically a busy, chaotic time at the centre. Still, our babysitters enjoy the buzz and excited energy the young orangutans exude as they prepare for a day of discovery in the forest.
The older students from Group 5 have to travel the furthest to get to their classroom. So they are off first. All the orangutans are usually excited to leave the complex grounds. Some are keen to go and play in the Forest School area, while others are motivated by the fruits carried by the surrogate mothers. Many seem to delight in escaping the watchful gaze of their babysitters. To an outsider, the daily commute to forest school might look a bit like organised chaos, but our dedicated nannies know their students well and always manage to keep things in order.
If you travel alongside these orangutans on their journey to Forest School, you can usually tell which group members fancy themselves the leaders. Last year, in Group 5, Beni loved to lead the group. However, Beni being Beni, he was often distracted by fruits and mushrooms found along the path, and he would get upset if the surrogate mothers led other orangutans past him while he was busy foraging. Beni clearly wanted to stay ahead of his peers and, once in a while, the babysitters would indulge him in his obsession to lead the group, despite his frequent pit stops along the way.
Meanwhile, in Group 4, there was no clear leader in the group. There was, however, the very random duo of Jelapat and Talaken, who took a liking to piggybacking as their mode of transportation to school. On many occasions, the other members of Group 4 had to wait for Jelapat to catch up, as he struggled with Talaken clinging to his back.
In Group 3, Otong took the same approach as Beni. He always wanted to lead his group to Forest School and would whine just like Beni if any other orangutan rushed in front of him. However troublesome this was, our surrogate mothers were always there to help and observe the development of their students’ behaviour, as a part of their growing process.
Currently, Beni is in the Socialisation Complex, in preparation for the next stage of his rehabilitation: time on a pre-release island. Talaken has moved up to Group 5, and Otong has advanced to Group 4.
We will continue to do all we can to support every single orangutan in our care, so they can continue to develop the natural skills and behaviours they will need to one day live independently in the wild.