Volunteering with Orangutans

The Indonesia Willife Sanctuary is currentlly home to two rescued orangutans. Read on to find out more about these amazing creatures.
Introducing the ‘Man of the Forest’
The name Orangutan can be literally translated into man of the forest. It comes from Malay and Bahasa Indonesian orang (man) and hutan (forest).

Orangutans are unique in many ways, they are the world’s largest tree climbing mammal and they are the only species of great ape to make their home in Asia.

They are recognised as being amongst the most intelligent of primates with the ability to use a range of tools and prepare sleeping nests to provide comfort and weather protection. Their hair is a distinctive reddish colour instead of the brown or black of other great apes.

They maintain the characteristic ape like shape but their arms are longer than other species and can reach a span of up to 2m in length, whilst they have shorter weaker legs. This has been any evolutionary development due to them spending the vast proportion of their time in the trees away from predators and other dangers.

Now only native to two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, there is fossil evidence that the species was once more widely spread to Java, the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Vietnam and Mainland China. They make their home in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

There are two species of Orangutan; one is then further divided into three sub species. Both of these are classed as endangered:-

Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus - northwest populations
Pongo pygmaeus morio - east populations
Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii - southwest populations
Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Do you want to read about previous volunteer experiences at the sanctuary? Click here to read volunteer stories at the Orangutan project.

Orangutan Social Life and Breeding
Orangutans are a great deal more solitary than the other great apes. Adults of both sexes have their own home ranges. The ranges of the female are smaller and tend to overlap each other with one or more of these ranges being encompassed by the range of a male who will be their primary breeding partner.

The main form of social bonding is between a mother and her offspring. Infant Orangutans are totally dependent on their mothers for the first two years of their lives as they travel, eat and sleep with them. They are considered juveniles from the age of two to five at which point they will start to make trips away and become more independent.

The Orangutan has the largest interval between births of the great apes at an average of eight years. Due to the time it takes to reach maturity, the large interval between births and the fact they only normally give birth to one baby the reproductive rate of the species is extremely slow. This makes the Orangutan population highly susceptible to an above average death rate and very slow to recover afterwards.

Got any questions about becoming a volunteer at the sanctuary? Try our Volunteer Indonesia Wildlife Rescue Frequently Asked Questions.

Orangutan Diet
Around 60-90% of the Orangutan’s diet is made up of eating fruit. The preferred fruits are high in sugar or have a fatty pulp. They also eat foliage, bark, seeds, bulbs, insects, honey, bird’s eggs and soil. The soil can provide minerals as well absorb toxins and treat stomach problems.

They obtain water from the fruits they eat and from where it gathers in holes in the trees. Orangutans are opportunistic foragers leading to an overall intake that changes with the seasons and the current location on their range.

Please click here to read more about volunteering with Orangutans in Indonesia.
Orangutan Population
Now found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia, Orangutan populations are concentrated in a geographically small area. The fact that they inhabit dense forest areas makes their numbers hard to accurately count. A study performed by the Indonesian Government in 2007 estimated there was a total of 61,200 Orangutans living in the wild with 54,500 of those being on the island of Borneo.
Orangutans Under Threat
Due to the very limited areas in which Orangutans live today the destruction of habitat is the greatest threat to their survival. This destruction has been caused by human activity such as large scale commercial logging, illegal logging and mining and forest clearance for agriculture, road building and an ever growing number of oil palm plantations.

There has also been a rise in the number of forest fires caused by the El Nino weather pattern as well as careless humans who are present engaged in the activities listed above. WWF-Indonesia estimates that nearly two million hectares of land were burnt in Indonesia in 1997, and that thousands of fires occurred mainly in central and west Kalimantan and southern Sumatra.

Sadly Orangutans are also deliberately exploited by mankind with them still being killed for food particularly when fire destroys local agriculture causing food shortages. They are also hunted when they move in to an agricultural area and destroy crops; this is becoming a more common problem as their natural habitat dwindles.

The pet trade has a big impact upon Orangutan numbers with a big demand for the young in Southeast Asia particularly Indonesia where they are seen as a status symbol. This leads to females being hunted more often than males as if they are caught with offspring these can be sold. The animal welfare organization TRAFFIC estimates as many as 15 Orangutans die to get one live baby to market.
Sources: WWF, Wikipedia, Animal Planet. Orangutan.org

Please click here to read more about volunteering with Orangutans in Indonesia.

Volunteering with Orangutans
Volunteering with orangutans is an amazing way to encounter and work with this increasingly endangered great ape.

Volunteering with these highly intelligent and gentle apes is often the highlight of a volunteer's experience at the centre.

By volunteering with otrangutans, you will be able to support conservation efforts to help protect the species.

The mission of the project is the rescue, rehabilitation and release of native species. Sometimes it is not possible to release rescued wildlife if they are no longer able to survive in the wild or if there is not a suitable and safe location to do so. The project provides a safe and respectful environment for rescued animals.

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