Saving Orphan Baby Orangutans

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

An orphan baby orangutan, without his mother, has a hard time learning basic but essential, survival skills, like climbing and using tools to find food. In this rescue sanctuary in Indonesia, the team tries to help Baby Peanut to learn to be able to survive in the wild. The loss of the rain forests is jeopardizing the future of Orangutans in such places as Borneo and Sumatra.

And there are many orphans because Orangutans are killed for the palm oil trade which is in about half of the processed food items in supermarkets and products like Nutella.

We share a great deal of genetic material with Orangutans, and you can see reactions that are very familiar -- he looks just like a scared human baby.

While I am certain Peanut's rescuers felt they had his best interest at heart, I can't help but think that in his case, they pushed him too fast, when he was clearly too stressed to learn to climb. I think every animal is different in terms of how fast they can handle new and stressful situations. I think this is an example of where we have to work at the animal's pace. Especially when there is trauma, it is better to work slower, to let the animal get comfortable with the new challenge. Is it possible that this new level of stress that Peanut experienced contributed to a weaker immune system?

I mention this because in The Trust Technique, one of our key principles is to work at the animal's pace. This means that it is not about what the human thinks should happen next, or how fast progress "should" be made. Rather it is about observing the animal in front of you and making the adjustments needed so that the animal can be a peaceful state when learning something new or facing a scary challenge.

With all due respect for Peanut's devoted rescue team, (and I do understand that they wanted Peanut to learn an essential survival skill of climbing), he was clearly not ready to take on the challenge this fast. It might have been better to let him watch the older orangutan, and get comfortable watching until Peanut felt curious enough to try on his own.

Watch this video as loving and gentle baby sitters work with baby orangutans, without putting any pressure on them, they allow them to slowly overcome the trauma of losing their mothers and learning how to navigate the world.

And here the older orangutans learn how to go to Forest School. How to find food, recognize danger, climb, and prepare to be able to survive in the wild.

Below is Baby Luna learning how to climb. But with the trauma of the loss of her mother, she has to go slowly, in order to emotionally regroup by getting a reassuring dose of comfort before she is ready to venture again. It is important to let orphan babies learn at their own pace.

Here is a one-month-old orphan, Rickina, being introduced to the others for the first time.

Why Would an Orangutan Want to a Bar of Soap?

Forty years ago, a group of rescued Orangutans learned how to wash with soap by watching humans. But now, new orangutans -- who were never taught this behavior-- are born knowing about this process. They will sneak into the sanctuary and steal soap. They will wash up and share it with others. How is this memory translated to the new generation, when they never were taught or shown about soap? Watch this curious video below of orangutans soaping up.

To learn about the various issues that Orangutans are facing, here is an overview of rescue efforts that seek to heal trauma and release them back into the wild.

This video below is not easy to watch, but it does show the hope and recovery when captive pet orangutans are rescued. They can heal, but it takes time, love, and patience.

This video below is a happy story about a love story between a stray dog and an orangutan.

Save the Orangutans! Help support rescue organizations that protect the orphans.

Want more? Here is a documentary from the Smithsonian on The Orangutan School.

Genie Joseph, PhD

Director: The Human-Animal Connection


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