At our orangutan release sites and on our pre-release islands, the BOS Foundation employs special monitoring teams. They conduct regular observations and collect data on how released orangutans are adjusting to their new environment. The data on these orangutans, who live in the open, show that they behave completely differently to others still living in enclosures.
Observing orangutans may not always provide new insights for those who have worked on the monitoring team for a relatively long time. However, for new team members, the experience of observing and collecting data on orangutan behaviour can be quite an eye-opener; there is just so much to learn about this great ape species.
This has certainly been the case for Ubay, the newest member of our Juq Kehje Swen monitoring team in East Kalimantan. Juq Kehje Swen is a human-made forested island covering an area of 82.84 hectares. We use the island to accommodate orangutans undergoing the pre-release stage of rehabilitation.
Ubay began his monitoring work on Juq Kehje Swen at the end of May when he observed Desi, the only orangutan currently living on the island. Before this, Ubay collected data on plant life in the forest after majoring in cultivation. The most significant difference he had to get used to was all the movement required: plants stay still, but orangutans move about while being observed, and our team members need to follow them. Therefore, Ubay had to constantly move while observing Desi.
Over the day, Desi’s behaviour showed that she is pretty relaxed as she mostly sat in a tree, not doing much at all. Conditions like this can make observers a bit tired and tests new recruits’ stamina as they record orangutan activities.
For Ubay, his first time observing Desi showed him just how similar to humans orangutans are: He took careful note of Desi’s hairline, facial structure, and mouth, all of which closely resembles those of a human.
Orangutans can also show emotions. For example, Ubay saw Desi’s annoyed expression when she was attacked by bees, blindly swinging her arms around in an attempt to ward off the stinging insects.
Our rookie quickly learned that it is a lot of hard work, observing orangutans as a monitoring team member – but also a lot of fun.