When the orangutans have been rescued and evacuated to SOC, their journey back home begins:
Very often the orangutans arrive very weak, traumatised, undernourished and sick. The first weeks they spend in quarantine, data about their identity is collected, after which medical and behavioural condititions are evaluated to determine their physical and emotional health and appropriate treatment is determined and given. Some orangutans have diseases that they can spread among the other orangutans or humans like TBC, hepatitis B etc. Some arrive in such bad physical or emotional condition caused by their poor treatment whilst in possession of their previous owner, and they need to recover before they are able to progress to the next step in their rehabilitation process.
When observations and medical results show the orangutan is healthy, he or she can be transferred to the socialisation enclosures, which is often the first time they see another orangutan since being taken by poachers. The character of the orangutan is observed carefully to choose a potential, suitable first friend. Although orangutans live mainly in solitude in the wild, social interaction is important and very helpful during the rehabilitation process; they learn from each other, learn social skills that are needed in the wild, and they have a playmate to prevent boredom. Being buddies can comfort and help them when needed.
During the socialisation phase the orangutans are stimulated to further develop their natural behaviour that they have sometimes forgotten or just never learnt, because they were taken away from their mother at a very young age
We provide them with fresh leaves on a daily basis to stimulate their nesting skills. Some do not know what to do with the leaves, some play with the leaves and some immediately start constructing something that looks like a nest. Additionally, they also receive other enrichments each day to stimulate other natural behaviour, such as logs with food hidden in drilled holes, which stimulates problem solving skills and tool use and slows down the food delivery process.
During the socialisation period their behaviour and physical condition is evaluated to analyse when they are ready to go to the next phase, the ‘Forest School’. Their physical condition needs to be good enough to climb the trees, they need to show some first nest making skills, be socially capable, show enough interest in different food types and have a certain level of problem solving abilities so the orangutan will be able to explore a sufficient amount of food resources.
When they show good progress and their skills are advanced enough, they are ready to be transferred to forest school.
A forest school consist of ‘Forest Enclosures’, which is an area of pristine indigenous forest of around 2 Hectares each, surrounded by an electric fence, where the orangutans can practise all their forest survival skills. The electric fence ensures SOC staff can monitor and guide the orangutans continuously. and is used to prevent them from going out of the forest school area. The voltage of the electric wires will give a shock when touched, however it is not harmful to their health and will not cause injuries.
The ideal location for a forest enclosure is a natural forest with vegetation similar to their real ‘home’ - the forest. Forest school is the last step in the rehabilitation process before release.
Why is forest school needed?
The orangutans need to go to Forest School during the rehabilitation process to gradually become familiar wih the natural forest environment and be able to truly master all skills that are needed to survive in the wild. Skills that the orangutans need to learn during forest school include finding their own food, moving between trees, making nests, etcetera. This is carried out under the supervision and guidance of specialized SOC staff that are dedicated to provide the orangutans with the best possible care and support during their rehabilitation process The caretakers join the orangutans to forest school on a daily basis and stimulate the orangutans to develop their forest skills by climbing in the trees with the babies, or puts food in the trees to motive them to climb. In addition, they collect data about the behaviour of the orangutans which is then analysed by our behavioural scientist and biologist to analyse their readiness for release or continue further rehabilitation approaches.
The best way in which to optimise orangutans forest skills is to have a real forest to practice in. Learning how to find their own edible sources and how to collect food such as honey from a bee hive without getting stung. They need to learn how to make nests in different kinds of trees, while taking into consideration various weather conditions, and estimate the strength of branches and distance when climbing through treetops. These are all skills that are difficult to acquire without practice in a forest and a regular enclosure is not sufficient to prepare the orangutans for release.
Aside from the afore mentioned importance for survival, being in the forest school also reduces the stress and depression of orangutans compared to conventional enclosures. Furthermore the forest school enables reduced human contact of caretakers
The first forest school we built is located in a village called “Tembak”, around 70 km south of Sintang. On the road from Sintang to Tembak, hours of palm oil plantation destruction pass before coming to this village that already many years stands strong against the palm oil and does everything to prevent the palm oil come in.
This forest school has been fully operational since June 2015. SOC was given permission from the villagers of Tembak to use this piece of forest as a practising ground for orangutans from SOC. The Masarang Foundation also started activities in Tembak to support them in protecting their forest area by providing potential alternative income sources, such as the Tengkawang factory and the distribution of sugar palm seedlings. The village of Tembak has great enthusiasm and are fighting tirelessly to save their forest and their livelihood.
We plan to built a second forest school in a village called “Jerora”, about 5 km from the quarantine orangutan facility in Sintang.
Future Location: Jerora 2
The location where we are building the second forest school is called “Jerora”, 5 km from the quarantine orangutan facility in Sintang.
Jerora is the ideal location for a second forest school. It is over 4 Hectares of pristine forest with similar vegetation to the orangutan’s original habitat. The land is owned by father Jacques Maessen (Co-founder of SOC and founder and Chairman of the KOBUS foundation), which means there is no need to invest any capital in buying the land.
Forest School and Sanctuary
Whilst we will be using this land for a “forest school” for orangutan rehabilitation for later release, it also provides the opportunity to develop a forest enclosure that can be used as a “sanctuary”. A sanctuary for those orangutans that are less fortunate and will not be able to be released due to reasons such as: incurable diseases, physical disability, psychological difficulties to adjust to the natural life, etc.
Orangutans that cannot be released are not harmed when exposed to people from a safe distance. For that reason a sanctuary will be ideal for educational purposes to create awareness and give visitors the opportunity to see orangutans from a distance in the forest without harming their wellbeing or interfering in what would be the closest to their natural habitat. Education and awareness are critical aspects of our program so people stop hunting orangutans and to get people interested in saving the orangutan and the forest. Because Jerora is in such close proximity to Sintang, it will be easily accessible for educational purposes.
The forest school in Jerora will be similar to the Tembak forest school. This new forest school contains 4 hectares where we plan to make 2 forest enclosures, each consisting of 2 hectares. One of the forest enclosures will be used as a forest school for releasable orangutans and the other as a sanctuary. Each forest enclosure will be able to house 5 adult orangutans and 2 -3 babies. With these forest enclosures we can immediately give another 12 orangutans the opportunity to improve their quality of their life and move on to this important next step of rehabilitation.