BOSF Forest School: Rachel Takes Brave Steps towards Independence

Text by: Communication Team in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan

December 2, 2020 — Orangutans acquire many important skills throughout the rehabilitation process, as they work to grasp the workings of life in the forest. Orangutans 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 the surrogate mothers that work to fill the educational role that their real mothers would be played in the wild. As the orangutans age, they start to learn 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.

See also: Rachel and Alejandra's First Days in the Nursery Group

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 not far from where the surrogate mother was, heard the call. She appeared thirsty as well, as she immediately started to climb down. But, she seemed to be having trouble getting down, 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 seemed to know that there was only one way down, but she tried to look for other options. 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 down, 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.

Always maintain your thirst for learning new skills, Rachel!

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