Young Orangutans eat bananas at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. A University of British Columbia professor is sharing her experiences about helping run a “jungle school” that rehabilitates orphaned orangutans back into the wild. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)

UBC scientist to share experiences rehabilitating orangutans in Indonesia

Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves spent eight years with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

A University of British Columbia researcher is sharing her experiences helping run a “jungle school” in Indonesia that rehabilitates orphaned orangutans back into the wild.

Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves spent eight years with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991 to deal with the large numbers of orphaned and illegally held orangutans in need of rehabilitation.

“A lot of what we do focuses on rescuing orangutans in areas of conflict, oil palm plantations, areas that were burned, areas that have had habitat disturbances, but also rescuing infants found in villages,” she said.

Sunderland-Groves, who’s now a research scientist with the UBC faculty of forestry’s Wildlife Co-existence Lab, is giving a talk about her experience running the foundation at Vancouver’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum on Sunday.

It takes about six to eight years for an orangutan to graduate the foundation’s “jungle school,” depending on how young the animals are when they come in, she said in an interview Friday.

“The baby starts baby school and then goes up to forest school 1 and forest school level 2,” she said. “Between the ages of six and eight, they become very strong … and that’s when they progress to naturally vegetated areas or pre-release islands.”

The school teaches the great apes the skills needed to survive in the wild that they would normally have learned from their mothers, Sunderland-Groves said.

That includes how to climb trees, which foods to eat and which to avoid, how to build night nests and how to avoid predators. Staff teach by example, which helps the young orangutans learn.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 70,000 orangutans remain in Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Sunderland-Groves said the biggest threat to the animals’ habitat comes from the clearing of land for palm oil plantations, with conflict and forest fires adding to the problem.

The foundation has two centres in Indonesia, housing about 550 orangutans. Since 2012, the organization has reintroduced 378 of the auburn-maned apes into the wild.

A successful reintroduction is one where the animal survives for a full year in the forest, Sunderland-Groves said.

This means the ape has learned to adapt to all the seasons by foraging for other vegetation at times when fruit is less plentiful in the forest.

The foundation fits the animals with a radio transmitter before reintroduction so their progress can be monitored.

Teachers and babysitters become quite attached to the apes, she said, with each animal having its own personality and characteristics.

“But just seeing an orangutan come out of a cage and climb straight up to the forest and knowing that’s the last time they are going to be in a cage is just great,” she said.

While Indonesia is on the other side of the globe, Sunderland-Groves said it’s important for people in Canada to care about these creatures because they share 97 per cent of the same DNA as humans.

“From Borneo to British Columbia, we have exactly the same problems to a certain degree,” she said, adding both areas are affected by forest fires and timber extraction, leading to human-wildlife conflict.

“We share this planet and we have a duty to protect it.”

The rehabilitation “school” that Sunderland-Groves helped establish is also the subject of a 10-part documentary series set to air on the Love Nature channel.

“Orangutan Jungle School” premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. and runs for 10 weeks.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Asphalt plant can soon begin operations in Steelhead

Council votes 4-3 to permit amendment to Land Use Contract, notes legal implications

Vancouver double homicide leads to arrest in Harrison Hot Springs Wednesday

VPD and RCMP tracked dumped vehicle connected to killings to Chilliwack

Multiple accidents slowing westbound Highway 1 traffic

3 accidents in Langley, Abbotsford within 30 minutes

Thief steals bucket truck in Abbotsford while worker is 20 feet in air

Employee is able to jump to safety after suspect drives into pole

Fraser Valley Real Estate Board says sales double in June, buyers returning to market

Month’s property sales rebound 113% over May’s sales, 32% over June last year

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Surrey officer-impersonation scam continues ‘almost daily’

Police reiterate warning that demands for Bitcoin in exchange for waived charges are fraudulent

Indigenous leader Ed John pleads not guilty to historical sex charges

Ed John’s lawyer entered the plea by telephone on behalf of his client

Woman who talked to unconscious husband for 30 years gets solace from B.C. study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

Most Read