In the wild, young orangutans stay with their mothers for years, and during that period they learn from their mother everything they need to survive in the wild. Orangutan children are weaned around the age of six, however, they still stay close to their mothers for three more years while becoming progressively more independent.
A human surrogate parent cannot raise a baby orangutan in the same way its biological mother does but, in her absence, must do her/his best to care for the orphaned orangutan’s physical and emotional needs, while also providing safety and security. Human surrogate mothers must be the protectors, caregivers, entertainers, and models.
At our ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL in Borneo, there is one surrogate mother to every 1-3 orangutan orphans, depending on the age of the orphan. Caregivers discuss the orphans’ behavior and development in a team headed by behavioral experts and veterinarians. These are the only people orphaned orangutans ever meet and interact with. This is because humans are still the orangutans’ most dangerous enemy. The Indonesian word for the orangutan male foster mothers working at the FOREST SCHOOL is “penjaga” which means guardian, and for the female foster mothers it’s “pengasuh”, nurse. But independent of gender, male and female caregivers all comfort, train and guard the young orangutans. A foster mother is hugely important for an orangutan's growth and development, and being a foster mother to a baby ape is no easy task! All our caretakers learn their skills on the job, and receive continued training to expand and hone their skills by experience.
Here, we introduce you to a handful of our dedicated pengasuhs and penjagas, who explain what made them decide to dedicate their love and care to the orphans of the Bornean rainforest.
Head Pengasuh, Sisilya
Sisilya has been working in Jejak Pulang since the beginning for years now. She has 14 years of experience as a foster mother for the orphan orangutans.
“My daily work in the forest makes me feel more connected to nature than I ever felt before. Being able to foster baby orangutans and being part of their early life is an extraordinary interaction with nature.”
Sisilya particularly enjoys exploring the forest together and modelling how to find and process food or how to weave tree nests for resting. This job has its own challenges as well, as it is a huge responsibility to bring up a baby orangutan and prepare it so that it will be able one day to live in the wild. Seeing the babies grow up to become independent and setting them free is at once elating and worrisome. To be a foster mother for orangutans, you have to understand their individual personalities. Everything depends on the foster mother being able to create a strong bond of trust, only then can the process of fostering be successful.
Head Penjaga, Nahes Saputra
As a native of Kalimantan, where most Indonesian orangutans come from, Nahes always wanted to work with them. Knowing that their numbers constantly decrease due to activities ranging from mining, land clearing, oil palm plantations etc., motivates him to participate in preserving orangutans in the Borneo forest, so that in the future our descendants and future generations can still see orangutans.
“What I like best about my job is that I can directly interact with orangutans because I am the one who replaces their parents in the forest and also because in the conservation area not all humans can meet orangutans. I consider orangutans as if they were my own children. I am very proud and happy if the orangutans I guard can be released back and live in the wild as our goal stands in the conservation program”, says Nahes.
For Nahes, the challenging part of his work is when he is exploring the forest together with orangutans during the night. In the Forest, there are so many new things and challenges they may encounter, therefore they should always be prepared mentally and physically. Since starting this job in 2016, Nahes has continuously expanded his knowledge: he can recognize orangutan food plants and comprehends the nature of orangutans, how they fit in their habitat, and beyond that he has become a part of the world of conservation, and much more.
Yustina was always curious to work closely with orangutans and learn about their conservation, because she knew other orangutan caregivers in her community. She enjoys socializing with orangutans, exploring, teaching them to find food and to make nests. “Essential when you want to become a foster mother to orangutans,” according to Yustina “is to learn all types of food they can eat and which ones they need to avoid.” Yustina has been working with animals for many years now, including a project for welfare of neglected cats and dogs. As a result of this work, she feels very close to animals and loves all of them even more.
Penjaga, Nor Faniansyah
Fani was always very interested in working in an orangutan organization and began working with orphans in 2014. “Because orangutans are endangered species that are protected in Indonesia, not everyone can see and take care of them. When we take care of orangutans we also take care of the forest,” says Fani.
For Fani, the best part of the job is teaching and accompanying Orangutans to: climb trees with them, make nests, look for, choose and prepare forest food, recognize potential predators, and occasionally playing with young orangutans. “When the penjaga becomes a substitute for the orangutan mother, who plays many roles and teaches many things so that they can later survive in the wild alone and even reproduce – that makes me proud to be an orangutan’s guardian."
“Working with orangutans makes me feel happy and proud. I am grateful to the organization for giving me the opportunity to learn and build my competences. I hope to be able to continue to learn and improve” says Fani.
Under the onsite leadership of FOUR PAWS primatologist Dr. Signe Preuschoft, we ensure that all staff are introduced properly to all important quality standards when it comes to dealing with orphan orangutans. Our FOREST SCHOOL was built together with our Indonesian partner organization, "Jejak Pulang". In the school, orphaned orangutans are given the opportunity to develop the skills they will need to eventually return to the wild during adolescence. Find out more about our FOREST SCHOOL here.