July 22, 2010
Enrichment is designed to improve the quality of captive animal life through the provision of novel objects and manipulation of their external environment. Enrichment keeps animals both mentally and physically stimulated in order to prevent boredom and depression and the development of obsessive compulsive behaviors like turning in circles, pacing, and self mutilation. Enrichment stimulates natural behaviors like play, foraging, problem solving, and social interaction between group members. Captive primates in particular thrive in conditions that mimic the complex socio-ecological challenges they have been faced with in the wild for millions of years. Conversely, they suffer more acutely in captivity when their external environment does not provide enough activities to engage the brain as it would be in the wild. For rehabilitation centers like the OCCQ, enrichment plays a particularly important role because it is an invaluable part of the learning process through which young orangutans acquire the skills needed to survive in the wild.
Karbank demonstrates how important forest outings are for learning how to find and process wild foods. Photo courtesy of OCCQ.
The two primary types of enclosure enrichment that are utilized at the OCCQ are emotional and cognitive. Emotional enrichment is provided to the young orangutans who have been emotionally traumatized by the loss of their mothers. The infants and young juveniles are held, cuddled, and caressed to simulate the intimate bond they would have had with their mothers in the wild; baby orangutans physically remain on their mother's body for the first few years of their life and she is the source of all emotional nurturing and attachment in the wild. Female caregivers serve, therefore, as surrogate mothers, by providing emotional security until the young orangutans begin to mature. The use of surrogate caregivers is a critical part of the rehabilitation process because it instills psychological stability and competence in the younger orangutans, increasing the likelihood of successful rehabilitation later on.
The local Enrichment coordinator, Ibu Mariyanti, and Jessica, Enrichment Intern, hang up a tire hammock for Sam to play with, sleep in and apparently, use as a chew toy. Photo courtesy of OCCQ.
Enrichment is a very valuable tool for rehabilitation and serves the dual purpose of keeping residents physically active and mentally stimulated while preparing them for life in the wild. It also presents us with an opportunity to study captive orangutan behavior, monitor health and physical condition, and assess rehabilitation progress. Enrichment gives us a chance to be both observers and participants in the ancient and complex process of infant orangutans learning to be successful and independent 'People of the Forest'.
Orangutans use calls for a variety of reasons
(03/10/2010) Mature male orangutans produce what scientists call 'long calls', which can be heard for one kilometer in all directions even in dense forests. New research in Ethology has uncovered that these calls are employed for a number of reasons and provide information about who is calling and why.
Why we are failing orangutans
(03/01/2010) It is no secret that orangutans are threatened with extinction because their rain forests are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, Shawn Thompson, a writer, former journalist and university professor, set out to chronicle the threat to orangutans in a book released in March 2010. The book is called The Intimate Ape: Orangutans and the Secret Life of a Vanishing Species. The book spends most of the time talking about the nature of orangutans and the relationships between orangutans and people. But the ultimate underlying message is there about the source of the peril to orangutans and the solution. Thompson says that the problem of saving orangutans has to do with communications and human nature.
Rehabilitation not enough to solve orangutan crisis in Indonesia
(08/20/2009) A baby orangutan ambles across the grass at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation center in Central Kalimantan, in the heart of Indonesian Borneo. The ape pauses, picks up a stick and makes his way over to a plastic log, lined with small holes. Breaking the stick in two, he pokes one end into a hole in an effort to extract honey that has been deposited by a conservation worker. His expression shows the tool’s use has been fruitful. But he is not alone. To his right another orangutan has turned half a coconut shell into a helmet, two others wrestle on the lawn, and another youngster scales a papaya tree. There are dozens of orangutans, all of which are about the same age. Just outside the compound, dozens of younger orangutans are getting climbing lessons from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS) staff, while still younger orangutans are being fed milk from bottles in a nearby nursery. Still more orangutans—teenagers and adults—can be found on “Orangutan Island” beyond the center’s main grounds. Meanwhile several recently wild orangutans sit in cages. This is a waiting game. BOS hopes to eventually release all of these orangutans back into their natural habitat—the majestic rainforests and swampy peatlands of Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo. But for many, this is a fate that may never be realized.