Lonely Planet Writer

There's a school in Borneo for orphaned baby orangutans to learn skills to survive in the wild

Every school does invaluable work, but in what looks like a particularly worthwhile educational setting, eight orphaned baby orangutans have arrived to a ‘school’ in Borneo to learn skills to enable them to survive in the wild.

Tegar swinging at the Four Paws Orangutan Forest School. Image: Four Paws/Nanang Sujana

International animal welfare organisation, Four Paws, took in the eight orphans, all aged between eleven months and nine years, after they watched their mothers being killed, usually as victims of the palm oil, tropical timber and coal industries.

It has been setting up a new rehabilitation project over the past year, together with its local partner, Jejak Pulang, and the Indonesian government.

Baby orangutans are cared for by human surrogates in the baby house. Image: Four Paws

The new 100-hectare Four Paws Forest School has opened in East Kalimantan. The orangutans will be taken care of primatologist, Dr. Signe Preuschoft, and a team of 15 animal caretakers, a biologist and two veterinarians. They will prepare the beautiful creatures for release back into the rainforest, which usually occurs when they are nine years old.

A caretaker from Four Paws with Gerhana, an orphaned orangutan. Image: Four Paws/Nanang Sujana

Setting up the project in the middle of Borneo’s rainforest has been a major logistical challenge, and the infrastructure of the school is still in the making. Nonetheless, the first group of orangutans are travelling daily from their current sleeping quarters to the school in the “school bus.”

Orphaned orangutans, Tegar and Gonda. Image: Four Paws/Nanang Sujana

They learn the skills that their birth mothers would normally teach them with their human surrogate mothers. For example, the curriculum includes climbing, foraging and building a sleeping nest. Next month, they will be able to move into their new sleeping quarters, just across the river bordering the school. One aspect of this project is that every animal is supported depending on their individual development level and pace by Dr. Preuschoft and her team. Therefore, not all orangutans are in the same “class.”

Baby orangutans are cared for by human surrogates in the baby house. Image: Four Paws

As babies, they first live in the loving care of their human surrogate mothers in the baby house and visit the kindergarten. From the age of two, the toddlers attend the Forest School. As their competence increases, the orangutans become more adventurous and independent. When they reach puberty, it is time for them to graduate to the Forest Academy.

Eska, a teenager orangutan exploring the forest in Four Paws. Image: Four Paws/Nanang Sujana

“The goal of the project is to rehabilitate these orangutans and equip them with the skills they need so that in a few years, when they reach the appropriate age, they will be able to return to a natural forest and live there completely free and independent,” explains Dr. Preuschoft.

The new Four Paws Forest School in Borneo. Image: Jejak Pulang/Four Paws/Rifky

For further information on the Four Paws Forest School, please see here.