Orangutangs 2015–16

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To make the pages download more quickly, we are moving the main species at Durrell to their own dedicated pages. The articles will still be indexed at the main Durrell's Creatures page

Orangutangs 1 Mothers

Durrell_15%20009Dana came outside, crossing the log bridge with baby Kea balanced carefully in one arm as she pressed her other hand, knuckles down, on the logs to keep her balance as she moved. She sat at the end of the bridge facing the building and the sun, and Kea lay across her lap, cuddled in her arms. Long wisps of the baby’s hair occasionally drifted up or out as she moved. Sometimes she leaned over her mother’s side to delicately prod at the bridge, exposing a slender arm. Once she stood up, carefully supported by Dana, to test the bridge cable.

Dana is very protective of her precious baby, and keeps her close, while Annette is more relaxed with Jantho. She has had several babies elsewhere, but only a few have reached maturity. So when Jantho became ill with a cold the orangutan keepers were very concerned, not knowing why Annette’s other babies had died. What they did know was how very precious these rare Sumatran orangutan babies are, for a species so endangered in the wild. But Jantho survived, and his mother is quite relaxed to leave him squealing indoors among other members of the group while she goes outside for some peace and quiet.

Durrell_15%20008 Durrell_15%20010

The mothers frequently spend time with each other, while the babies play together. They were all together in the evening, Dana in the upper passageway, Annette on the inside platform, both tightly clutching their babies as they watched Dagu, the huge dominant male. He was throwing himself at the wire door that separated the enclosure from the kitchen, enraged at the non-arrival of his meal. He swept around the floor like an enraged warlord, whose long moth-eaten sheepskin robe swished across the floor, with the earflaps of his Mongolian style hat screening his scowling face, until he ended up again at the entrance, standing hunched and angry as if waiting for his missing hordes.

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2 Babies

Both orangutan mothers stood beside the wire of the enclosure, holding their babies. Dana held out Kea for the keeper to check, as she has been taught to do, and soon afterwards Annette held out Jantho.

Dana at times looks as though she could do with some peace. At one point she covered her head with a sack, clasped Kea to her chest and climbed up to the private nursing chamber above the passageway. Baby Kea is growing adventurous, and venturing further away from her observant mother.

orang baby Kea 1 orang baby Kea 2

During the afternoon Dana sat at one end of the bridge as Kea ventured cautiously along it towards the house, trying different ways of using the hand cables. It wasn’t long before Dana collected her baby and took her indoors. But they were soon both outside again, where Kea tried her balancing act on a land-based log and rope.

orang baby Kea 3 Dana collects orang baby Kea

Kea was still active by the evening, climbing the inner door tower right to top. She was followed as always by Dana, who came up more slowly. She was armed with a willow stem that she used to poke holes in the enrichment pipe running across door. Her efforts pushed the nuts inside, making them come out at the end of the pipe, and usually falling to floor where she had to go to collect them.

Dana made an effort to go to bed, settling down with Kea in one of the nests. But it wasn’t made to her liking, so she tossed a sack over her head and began to remake it. Kea took the opportunity to scramble out and down to the floor. Baby Jantho was already there, escaping from his mother Annette who had been trying to feed him chard stems in her nest. Both babies played together, and the mothers abandoned bedtime routine and came down to join them.

30 April 2014

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3 Jiwa – Part one

Jiwa was the young orangutan male that I watched with another youngster some years ago and his home will be here at Durrell for his lifetime. His development was arrested, shown now both in his behaviour and his small stature, and he won’t be moved away from this place that he knows so well. The other young orangutan, Jaya, went to a new home when he was nine, by which time he had become mature enough for dominant male Dagu to see him as a competitor. Dagu tolerates Jiwa though, possibly because the younger male had a vasectomy.

It seems no time since I was watching Jiwa as an endearing youngster, holding the younger Jaya by the hand as they walked down the slope of one of the islands, then showing him how to do sack races, or make a stylish hat or hammock out of the hessian. It was particularly good for screening their faces, either from the sun or perhaps just because they wanted to.

Now Jiwa looks like a picture I once saw of the old man of the sea. His wizened body is still child-sized, but the large adult face topping it is fringed with a wispy ginger beard that sometimes frames his bared teeth. He’s still good with youngsters and likes both the babies, but Annette and Janthu don’t care for him too much.

He lives with Dagu and Gina, who is going through the menopause. It may be that her hormonal imbalances made Jiwa so obsessed with her. As if he were at a loose end, Jiwa followed her everywhere and could not leave her alone. He slouched along after her wherever she went, and she shifted often, trying to shake him off.

Gina sat at first on the grass, when I first arrived at the outer enclosure, just enjoying the warmth. But when Jiwa came up he sat close beside her and gradually one long-fingered hand crept round to stroke her flank. Gina’s hefty clout failed to dissuade him, so she got up and went indoors, where Dagu crouched by the door cage, meditatively chewing a straw.

Gina edged across the wire wall between the two inner enclosures, went up to the top-most nest, then down to perch on a cable, crouched near the wall. Everywhere she went, Jiwa went too, one long arm circling round her. At last she let him mate with her, tolerating him with complete indifference, and at last he left her in peace, moving away to pick at pieces of food on the floor.

31 April 2014

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4 Bedtime play

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 1

The orangutan mothers and babies were going to bed in separate sections of the indoor enclosure. It was in the last moments of play before they settled for the night. Tiny Kea suddenly flung herself against the glass partition that separates orangutans and humans. She startled the little girl, just larger than herself, who stood pressed against the partition on the corridor side. More children crowded round to see what was going on and Kea began to play to her audience, dancing around, grabbing a hanging tube and shinning up it, hanging upside down to stare at the crowd.

Orang mother with baby on grass 1

Her mother Dana wandered off to get her nest ready, but the other female Annette came down to see what was going on. She came right up against the partition between the two enclosures, her fingers curled under the wire that separated them as she held on to it. Her face was level with mine, only inches away, with just the clear glass separating us, and twice she looked me in the eye, consideringly, as if to say, youngsters, always exhibitionists. Jantho, her own youngster, was hanging upside down from the edge of the topmost nest, dangling a sack enticingly.

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 2

He was always keen to play during the day, especially if he could get Kea to join in. He tried everything he knew, coming indoors to try to entice her out of the upper nest where her mother Dana was holding her fast by the ankle. At last Kea’s attempts to get away were rewarded by a short spell of freedom with Jantho, but after a few minutes Dana gathered her up again.

Orang mother and baby on the bridge 3

Sometimes Kea’s able to follow Jantho when he sets off to explore or start a game, even outside, but not for long. Her mother soon takes her back, and Jantho’s mother Annette comes to supervise him, aware no doubt that Dana doesn’t want him taking Kea too far away.

Orang mother with baby on grass 2

Dana likes to keep her precious hard-come-by baby close, but she doesn’t mind Jantho joining them in their nest. It isn’t often that the little male will settle down, and certainly not for long. So bedtime must come as a great relief to Dana as she snuggles down with Kea for a few hours of undisturbed peace.

Orang baby

13 April 2015

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5 Dagu

Dagu and sack 1

Dagu, the dominant male orangutan, crammed another piece of apple into his already full mouth. He was on one of the islands, picking food out of the grass and storing it in his mouth, which seemed to be a capacious receptacle. When it was full he loped across the bridge to his indoor quarters, where he obviously intended to chew his haul in peaceful shade.

Dagu and sack 2

I rarely find Dagu outside, but this time the fine weather seemed to entice him to venture out and stay. He even enjoyed an ice lolly, holding it in both hands to eat it. But he generally took a sack with him everywhere, wearing it on his head when he moved, and almost completely covering himself with it when he sat down by one of the poles that support the ropes and platforms replicating a tree canopy for the orangutans. I don’t know if the sack was being used to screen himself from the sun, or even from visitors so that he could snooze or meditate privately, but occasionally he’d lift the sack a little and peer out.

Dagu and sack 3

Dagu even had his sack with him I saw him indoors this time, in the strategic spot by the door to the kitchen. He was covered by the sack as he lay on his back, his feet curled up, and seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him. I had no doubt that the first movement in the kitchen would quickly have him standing to peer expectantly through the door.

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6 Jiwa – Part two

Jiwa, the young male orangutan with arrested development, is not having a happy time. On my first visit this year he was curled up indoors on an interior platform, screened from sight. He was recovering from an operation to remove pins that had been inserted to repair the the fingers of one hand. They were broken when Dagu, in play, roughly pulled Jiwa from a rail. His finger plates have never fused properly, so that in spite of his size, Jiwa’s bones are still fragile as a child’s.

Jiwa being private

Dagu is becoming less tolerant of Jiwa, but the females, Dana and Annette, already don’t like him and won’t let their babies play with him. Outdoors they, especially Annette, gather up their babies and move away, climbing up high, if Jiwa approaches them.

Jiwa is now kept in one half of the indoor enclosure. He misses being part of the group, and gets as close against the separating screen as he can. He sat next to Dagu on the floor, pressed as closely to the screen as he could, watching Kea cuddled up with her mother Dana and Jantho trying to entice her out to play. Jiwa would swing idly from a rope, still watching the others, or press up against the screen, keen to contact with them and play. I have a very clear memory of him some years ago, leading one of the other babies out to play and showing him the various uses of a sack – toboggan, screen, hammock.

Jantho of course is the one out of the current babies who’s curious and would like to communicate with Jiwa. Eventually Jantho climbed up the screen to where Jiwa was clinging onto it, and spent some time near him.

An attempt may be made later this year to reconcile Annette, Jantho’s mother, to Jiwa, so that he can at least have contact with Jantho and the companionship he so much wants. Otherwise the only other likely option is to find this for him in another home.

Jiwa gets comfortable

My last view of him was a happy one. Jiwa lay on his back on one island, a paper sack half over his head, a tomato in one hand, and head of celery in the other, half a pear in one foot.

16 April 2015

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