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Update 3 from Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project, Borneo

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  • Michelle Desilets
    Dear Friends of the Orangutan, It has been a relatively quiet few days since I last wrote. I did a few more interviews with the Canadian film team and the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 11, 2005
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      Dear Friends of the Orangutan,
      It has been a relatively quiet few days since I last
      wrote. I did a few more interviews with the Canadian
      film team and the babysitters. In one, babysitter Anni
      said she was disgusted by people in the region who eat
      orangutan, because, she said, “they are animals not
      unlike humans.” We gave the babysitters some
      follow-up questions in a questionnaire and asked them
      to briefly reply. Hanni, who very much wants to be in
      the programme, wrote a 10-page response! Translating
      this will keep me busy for awhile.

      I take out Osito, the baby sun bear, every day now
      for a run and to climb trees. He spends hours up in
      the trees, during which time I collect up fallen
      branches and logs to adorn his enclosure. Yesterday,
      Osito, quite by accident, discovered that if he broke
      off a branch of the tree, it would leave a soft entry
      point into the pith of the trunk. This gave him hours
      of enjoyment; once he had a hole in the tree, he was
      able to dig his long claws in and rip it open to
      expose any juicy insects to slurp up. But greed got
      the better of him- he was determined to break off
      bigger branches to reveal richer pickings. His small
      size was no match, although he tried and tried to
      bite, pull, and bounce on the branch in a vain attempt
      to remove it. He even put his mouth around the branch
      and tried to hang from it. He eventually resigned
      himself to just snapping off the smaller branches
      When Osito makes his way back into his enclosure,
      which he always does by his own volition, the play
      continues. Hot and panting from the day’s exercises,
      he first has a swim in his tub of water. Then he
      explores the new accessories in his home, tearing into
      rotting logs with gusto. He seems quite content, but
      it will be better when he gets to Samboja Lestari,
      where we have the largest sun bear sanctuary in the
      world, and he can be with others of his type.

      One evening, as the sun was setting, Lone and I were
      walking along in the project when she spotted a group
      of red leaf-eating monkeys. The glow of the sun made
      the colour of their hair even richer against the
      shadows of the leaves. Moving slowly, so as to not
      disturb them, we counted at least eight in the tree
      tops. But then one of them spotted us, set out the
      alarm, and they were in flight, almost literally,
      leaping great distances with grace. Lone likened them
      to ballerinas.

      More frequently seen are the macaques, who venture to
      the ground of the baby school playground whilst the
      orangutans are in the forest. They take this
      opportunity to hoover up any remains from breakfast:
      fruit skins and pits which might have been missed by
      our otherwise meticulous staff who clean up after
      every meal. Lately, one brave macaque has moved his
      business to the area where Karmele and I live. It
      started several days ago, when Karmele went back to
      her house at midday, and found that the contents were
      messier than usual. Whilst thinking she had better
      try to be a little tidier, she had a cool shower.
      When she came out, what she first thought was a cat
      jumped through the open window, but was of course this
      brave macaque. Completely unaffected by Karmele’s
      presence, he went about his business, until she
      succeeded in shooing him out. As a result, he jumped
      through my open window. She came to tell me and I
      went back to inspect. The macaque was gone and the
      only evidence I had of his break-in was the fact that
      my toothpaste had gone missing. So now we must keep
      the windows locked up throughout the day, leaving the
      house to bake like an oven.

      Lone insisted they wouldn’t come into the house when
      we were there at night, and so we could keep the
      windows open through the night to keep cool. How
      wrong she was! That night I was woken by the kittens
      meowing and their mum growling. Flicking on my
      bedside lamp revealed the macaque face to face with
      the cat, less than a meter from my bed. The macaque
      looked at me and gave no reaction at all. I made a
      great racket and shooed him out, thinking that this
      would teach him. I was mistaken. He came in again and
      again, never doing anything, just staring at the
      kittens until I woke to their meows and shooed him out
      again. Well, you say, why didn’t you just shut the
      window? Nah, I was determined to teach him that he
      was not welcome in the house, so each time he came in,
      I made a greater and greater racket, and finally he
      ventured in no more. Well, not until 5:30 in the
      morning, when I woke to a disturbance in my sitting
      room. He had come in and completely emptied my
      rucksack, the contents scattered everywhere. But this
      time when I appeared in the doorway, just seeing my
      face made him flee. Since then my window remains shut,
      day and night.

      I just went out to take a break from writing and give
      Osito some milk. Having mixed it up lovingly with just
      the right proportions, I presented it to him in a
      plastic bowl. He lapped it up heartily, but put his
      foot on the bowl bringing it precariously close to
      tipping over. I quickly righted it, but he must have
      thought I was taking it away, as he turned to attack.
      His canines went deep into the top and bottom of my
      hand. Screaming blue murder brought the attention of
      Hanni, who offered to watch Osito while I got one of
      the medical team to dress my wounds. So now I am
      typing with just one hand. Ouch!

      I feel I must take this opportunity to clarify a few
      things. One reader took issue with the fact that I
      have hands-on contact with the orangutans. I’d like to
      point out the rigorous protocol in place at Nyaru
      Menteng to prevent the transfer of disease between
      humans and orangutans. Any visitor to Nyaru Menteng
      must provide current negative results of tests for
      HIV, Herpes Simplex I and II, Hepatitis A and B, and
      TB, as well has up-to-date inoculations.
      Additionally, every visitor goes through a 10 day
      quarantine, during which time they may not get closer
      than 10 meters from the animals. We feel this strict
      procedure is necessary and as a result our orangutans
      remain remarkably healthy. Having seen other
      facilities in which tourists are permitted to approach
      orangutans without these regulations, I can only hope
      these measures will be adopted by all primate rescue

      I would also like to point out that at Nyaru Menteng,
      we believe in the value of nurturing and touch upon
      the health and well-being of an individual. How many
      pointless primate experiments over the decades have
      proven that lack of nurturing and touch compromises
      the psychological and physical well-being of infants?
      Our babysitters provide the cuddles and tickles that
      bring life back to the most listless of orphans. (In
      fact, Lone insists each baby is tickled every day!) A
      balance is maintained between cuddles and
      encouragement to climb and play with others, dependent
      on the needs and psyche of the individual. In the late
      afternoon, some tired orangutans will seek out the lap
      of a babysitter, or simply want to hold her hand.
      They are not denied this opportunity. If Lone or I
      are amongst the orangutans at this time, they may seek
      us out for the same reason. But it is always on THEIR
      terms. And it is these occasions which I described in
      previous updates.

      Quick news on the orangutans: Pangi is still
      struggling to survive...it is very touch and go. The
      babies that were on IV are now all off the IV and
      starting to improve. Sponge Bob's skin problem is now
      all cleared up. Sponge Bob has a most amazing
      laugh...rivalling that of the famous laugh of the
      orangutan Beethoven.


      (NB This is the 3rd update...if you are missing and
      would like either Update 1 or 2, please let me know).

      Michelle Desilets
      BOS UK
      "Primates Helping Primates"

      Please sign our petition to rescue over 100 smuggled orangutans in Thailand:

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