Orangutan Jungle School: Who is the Leader of the Pack?
Text by: BOS Foundation Communications Team in Nyaru Menteng
September 30, 2020 — “Yooo! Buah, yooo!”, call out the surrogate mothers every morning at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Central Kalimantan, to get the attention of the young orangutans in their enclosures. The call signals to the orangutans that it is time to eat fruit and head to forest school. Mornings are typically a busy, chaotic time at the centre, but our surrogate mothers enjoy the buzz and excited energy the young orangutans exude as they prepare for a day of discovery in the forest!
The fruit call occurs at around 8 a.m. every morning, with the orangutans from Group 5 – who have to travel the furthest to get to their ‘classroom’ location – departing ahead of everyone else. 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 surrogate mothers. To an outsider, the daily commute to forest school might look a bit like organized chaos, but our dedicated surrogate mothers 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, he was often distracted by the fruits and mushrooms found along the path to Forest School, and 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 surrogate mothers 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.
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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’ behavior, as a part of the growing process.
Beni is currently in the Socialisation Complex, in preparation for the next stage of rehabilitation: time on a pre-release island. Meanwhile, Talaken has moved up to Group 5, and Otong has advanced to Group 4. We will do all we can to support every orangutan undertaking rehabilitation so that they will continue to develop the natural skills and behaviors they will need to live independently in the forest!
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