Beni, Orangutan Jungle School superstar and internationally beloved orangutan, faces his greatest challenge – life on a pre-release island. In classic Beni fashion, less than two months into his stay, he has already found himself at the centre of a major drama.
Beni gained attention from the public for his forest school antics and banana-centric love affair. But at nearly eight years old, it was time for him to leave the comforts of the BOS Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to move on to the pre-release stage of his rehabilitation.
So, along with seven other orangutans, Beni was taken to Badak Besar Island in the Salat Island Cluster, Central Kalimantan, in mid-November. The first months of observation on the new arrivals yielded positive results. The island technicians reported that all orangutans were readily exploring their new home and using the skills they learned in forest school.
However, life on the islands is designed to be different from forest school. The residents need to learn the hard lesson before we can release them into Borneo’s unforgiving, wild forests.
In forest school, the “threats” are for show only, and the surrogate mothers closely watch and diffuse serious conflicts between peers, which isn’t the case in the pre-release stage of rehabilitation. At the end of December last year, it was Beni’s turn to learn his first hard lesson.
Following their regular schedule, our island technician team arrived at a feeding platform to drop off supplementary food and observe the behaviour of the orangutans. Many island residents appeared as soon as they heard the boat coming. Cinta, Meryl, and friends gathered around, and Beni quickly joined them. He acted as if nothing was wrong, but our team found themselves in utter disbelief. Beni had been in a fight – and clearly lost. He had on him small nicks, a deep gash over his brow ridge, and his upper lip was split entirely. But here he was, patiently waiting for food, probably hoping for some bananas.
Despite his surprisingly normal behaviour, our team took swift action. Assisted by Greggy Harry Poetra, a veterinarian from Nyaru Menteng, they moved Beni to the nearby transit complex for treatment. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that Beni’s wounds were caused by a canine bite that slashed his left eyebrow and upper lip.
Harry and Cinco, two island technicians, reported that they saw Beni near Petruk in the recent past, and he was their prime suspect. That’s why we placed Beni on a different side of the island from Petruk, an 11-year-old male, and the two sides of the island are separated by an artificial canal flooded with river water.
However, a build-up of silt, combined with a sudden drop in the water level, made it temporarily possible for orangutans to cross the canal. Technicians shared that Petruk did not appear to be fighting with any of the other orangutans on the island. They suspect the fight started when Beni stood up to Petruk over food. Beni had known him from forest school before Petruk grew his flanges and became a fully mature adult male.
Learning how to navigate the social hierarchy is an essential lesson for any young orangutan, and in this instance, Beni made the wrong decision. But that is what these islands are, for the orangutans to learn, while our teams are still around to help them back up when they make mistakes!
Vet Greggy said the bite wounds were only skin deep and did not reach the muscle tissue. Although the cut was long and looked a bit worryingly wide, no blood vessels ruptured; hence Beni’s life was not in danger. However, had it been left untreated, there was a potential for infection, so the team made a treatment plan and executed it immediately.
After Vet Greggy stitched up the wounds to expedite his recovery, the team applied a special, topical ointment and gave Beni anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics for a week. While he is young and healthy, these extra measures were necessary because playful and curious Beni could not resist the urge to scratch and pick at his stitches.
As a result, the vet team had to stitch him up for a second time when he opened the wound once. During his recovery, we gave Beni a diet rich in protein and vitamins, such as tempeh, milk, eggs, and fruit, especially bananas, his favourite fruit. The lack of physical activity in the temporary cage compared to on the island resulted in Beni gaining a little weight. “But we can still say that his weight gain is normal for the situation, and he is not overweight,” stated vet Greggy. After three weeks of treatment, Beni’s wounds healed completely, and in late January, he was ready to return to the pre-release island.
Be more careful and keep learning, Beni!