Food Fights: Orangutan Style

Date Posted: April 4, 2022

Orangutans must learn and develop their repertoire of survival skills prior to being released into the wild. Learning to compete with other orangutans is an important skill that orangutans need to master in order to become independent. However, some orangutans are more competitive than others, as we will learn below.

Competition occurs naturally between orangutans and is a regular part of maintaining the orangutan social hierarchy. A limited availability of food is one of the main reasons for competition amongst orangutans. On Badak Besar Island, a pre-release island in the Salat Island Cluster in Central Kalimantan, orangutans require sound foraging skills to pass this stage of rehabilitation.

When our team of technicians arrive at the island feeding platforms to deliver supplementary food, they often witness competition for food amongst the orangutan inhabitants. While some orangutans have formed close relationships and are good friends, when it comes to food it is everyone for themselves. Chums can quickly turn into challengers when favourite snacks are on the line. Cinta and Valentino, for example, were seen competing over food recently. The two are quite friendly toward each other in the forest, but at the feeding platform they will suddenly engage in fierce competition when it is time to eat.

In any competition, there are winners and losers, and in this competition, the winners get the right to claim the best pieces of fruit. It is typically the larger orangutans, like Cinta, who get first pick. The less successful orangutans are left to scavenge through the leftovers or to forage on their own.

One morning, Valentino and Cinta were waiting at the edge of a feeding platform. When the technicians approached in a long boat to unload fruit at the platform, little Valentino snatched some fruit and attempted to run off with it. However, big Cinta had other plans and easily snatched it from his hands.

Cinta and Valentino often explore the island together, but that doesn't mean Valentino is willing to lose food to his buddy. He immediately jumped to reclaim his fruit from Cinta, who was prepared for Valentino's resistance. She bolted up the nearest tree and perched in the top canopy, leaving Valentino no other choice but to retrieve scraps left on the feeding platform.

Not all orangutans like to compete fiercely over food. There are orangutans, like Dilla, who don’t like confrontation and prefer to wait for the other orangutans to grab their share before they move in to collect the remaining fruit. Despite Dilla’s reluctance to compete for food, there will inevitably come a time when she will need to show her competitive side to the other orangutans on the island.

We are delighted to share the progress of the orangutans living on our forested islands and we can’t wait to bring you more stories!

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