Volunteer Carolynn from Seattle updates us on the orangutans’ antics at our centre in Ketapang.
On Sunday we gave all the adult orangutans a few long pieces of sugar cane as part of their enrichment. They all chewed their tebu (Indonesian for sugar cane) in their favorite private places to enjoy a tasty treat, and inevitably a few pieces fell to the ground out of reach. I saw Mona struggling to reach a piece that had fallen, and her fingertips were just barely tapping the top in frustration. She had a stick in the other hand that she used to try to pry it up, but after watching her struggle for a minute or so I decided to come over and help. I bent down, picked up the tebu, and placed it in her hand but she immediately rejected it and threw it back on the ground!
I thought maybe this was somehow an accident so reached down again and brought it up to her more directly. Without hesitation she slapped it out of my hand so sharply that it almost hit me on the head!
Mona is very clear in her communication of, “No, I would not like your help thank you very much!” I decided not to take it personally, particularly as I see her behave the same way with her buddies Huta and Nicky. I recently set up a long PVC tube with holes in it that are just too small to fit fingers through, and I put tasty foods inside like mini bananas and cucumber chunks. Mona is always the first in her group to try to solve the puzzle of ‘how to get to the food’ with new enrichment items, and when Huta and Nicky came to help, she batted their arms away in an, “I’ve got this one,” sort of manner. Mona was right too, because she was the only one who cottoned on to the fact that you have to use a tool like a stick or piece of wire (that she had stolen from me earlier in the day) to push the food to the open sides of the tube. Nicky kept trying to use her tongue to push the food, and Huta for some reason kept trying to push a burlap sack through the holes. Needless to say, Mona figured it out first, and snatched a couple of the bananas. I certainly wouldn’t call Mona a bully though, since after she got her reward she left the device to enjoy her food in her favorite hammock. Nicky and Huta enjoyed the rest of the fruit and veggies having learned how to solve the puzzle by watching her. I’d say they have a fair system for sharing indeed!
Tug of war
A couple of times a week I like to set up a strong rope in between the adult orangutan enclosures to create a “tug of war” game. The orangutans seem to enjoy this game, and I always end up laughing at their differing strategies. Orangutan John is almost always a contender since his enclosure is adjacent to all the others. John is younger than the others, but he puts up a good fight.
The other day I gave one end of the rope to John, and the other to Jingo and Jojo. John playfully began tugging his end from Jojo, but Jojo only had to step on his end to keep it from flying away, since he probably has more strength in one leg than John has in his entire body! Jingo was chewing on the excess rope inside his and Jojo’s enclosure, but it didn’t matter since Jojo’s grip was going nowhere.
I decided to join “Team John” by grabbing the rope and helping him tug, and Jojo immediately shot me a look of betrayal which said, “How dare you take sides with that scrawny child!”
John and I tugged and tugged, but the rope barely moved. I felt something whipping me on the side, and when I looked over John was keeping the rope steady with one arm and flinging the excess rope at me with the other! He was probably just using the opportunity to get more attention, but nonetheless I decided to withdraw and let the boys duel it out. Within 5 or 10 minutes it was all over, with Jojo and Jingo coming out victorious. Some day we’ll have to set up an official bracket with prizes, and maybe a bundle of bananas tied to the middle of the rope as an extra incentive!