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Jungle School

Young rescued orangutans go through a stimulating and progressive series of lessons to learn the skills they will need to survive and thrive in the wild, skills their mothers, tragically, never got a chance to teach them.

The Project - Rescuing and Rehabilitating Young Orangutans

How do you prepare a primate that has spent its whole childhood in a cage for an independent life in the forest? This is a question we ask ourselves daily in the pursuit of giving rescued young orangutans the very best chance of living a long and happy life in the tropical forest where they naturally belong. The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) is a cooperation between the Frankfurt Zoological Society, the Indonesian Department for Forestry and Nature Conservation (PHKA) and the Swiss PanEco Foundation. 


SOCP endorses the confiscation of illegally held orangutans, to then prepare them, in a comprehensive process, for a self-sufficient life in the forest. This can take years and often does. Some will never make the leap to the wild but the success stories are encouraging. From GPS data and visual tracking, we estimate that we are looking after 160-plus orangutans in Bukit Tigapuluh, and five births among reintroduced orangutans have been recorded. 

More Information: Orangutans - An Overview

Candy baby 2014 BTP
Born to be wild: protected by Mum, where babies should be.

The Rocky Path to Sanctuary


There are horrible scars on Momon´s neck where his owners chained him. Momon was lucky because the Orangutan Conservation Programme heard about him and sent the forest police to confiscate him. His odyssey is coming to an end – he is now in the Reintroduction Station in Bukit Tigapuluh and is being prepared for a life in freedom.


It has been illegal to privately own orangutans in Indonesia for many years but unfortunately it is still very easy to obtain baby orangutans as pets. The capture of young orangutans is brutal – the fiercly protective mother has to be shot to get to the baby. An estimated five animals die for every orangutan sold – through inadequate conditions on the way out of the forest, in the hands of the middlemen or at the market before a buyer is found.

It is estimated that between 200 – 400 orangutans are illegally held as pets on Sumatra at any one time. We still have a long way ahead of us before we can finally put an end to orangutan trade and all these confiscated beings are given the chance of freedom in their natural forest habitat.



Timah and Dora off to Jungle School, 2014 BTP
Field Assistant Timah and Dora head to Jungle School

Behavioural Enrichment - puzzles and gadgets for learning


There are two parts to Jungle School, one part is cage based and the other is rainforest based. In the cage environment there is behaviour enrichment four times per day, in addition to items that are permanently in the cage to give options for exercise and resting up off the cage floor. Sumatran orangutans do not naturally come to the ground (unlike the orangutans of Kalimantan, a different sub-species) so everything is done to encourage them to live their lives, and especially to sleep, higher up and hence out of danger. Behaviour enrichment includes different exercises and puzzles designed to teach them how to forage in the wild. The behaviour enrichment was developed with the help of orangutan keepers from Perth Zoo.


A few options include food placed in a little cage-box, or tied in leafy parcels, or pieces of fruit and then leaves pushed into holes in the side of a hard, soccer ball sized object, or a long mesh bag tied to the side of the cage, stuffed with leaves that has pieces of fruit hidden amongst them. The orangutan in all cases needs to work out how to get the food out – pushing, pulling, probing, shaking, manipulating an object, reaching around obstacles. Orangutans use tools such as long thin sticks to extract things like ants and termites, their primary source of protein. There is an exercise that teaches this too.


More Information: 2014 Jungle School Report Card


Andalas heads for the food cannister BTP
Andalas tackles the hoist canister system
Freestyle learning in the forest 

For the forest based,  ‘freestyle’ section of Jungle School, the orangutans climb on to the back of the person who will carry them, arms around their shoulders and legs around their waist. From any angle, it looks just like the person has just acquired an orangutan backpack. Then its off to one of the 'classroom' sites where they move easily from back to tree trunk, moving up the trunk and into the canopy with ease, starting the hunt for food.

Over the next hours the field assistant will watch them and create a time based report of all their behaviour. How far do they range, what  do they feed on, how much do they feed, what time do they spend playing, are they using tools, are they interacting with each other, what time do they spend resting, do they build a nest around midday or display some behaviours towards nest building?


Today, two young pupils feed on red flowers, young leaves, various kinds of small figs and tree berries. They play together and obviously get on well with the odd squabble you might expect among two similar age siblings. Sometimes, one of them will try to come back down onto the ground to be with the trainer and she shoos the orangutan back up the tree with stern shouts and gesticulations. School is not finished yet! Eventually, they have really had enough for the day and refuse to stay up in the trees. The orangutan backpacks go back on, the pupils are handed a banana or corn on the cob and make the return journey through the forest and back to the cages. It is telling that even after hours of successfully foraging these two young ones are still hungry. They quickly devour their snacks on the way back and once back in their cages they are ready for the afternoon meal delivered via the behavioural enrichment exercises.

Documentary: Life in the jungle school