Enriching Their Lives and Ours
The goal of enrichment is to improve the quality of life for animals in captivity by providing novel objects and manipulating their environment to encourage natural behaviors. Primates in particular often suffer from lack of mental stimulation in captive situations, resulting in abnormal behaviors like obsessive compulsive pacing, rocking, and hair pulling. At the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ), it is extremely important that we provide a mentally challenging environment for the orangutans as they progress through the rehabilitation program before being released back into the wild. In addition, there are several permanent orangutan residents at the OCCQ who suffer from physical disabilities, which prevent them ever returning to the wild and, therefore, require extra enrichment within their enclosures.
For the rehabilitant orangutans, daily trips to the forest are the most critical part of the enrichment program. For several hours, they are free to explore, forage, and play while completing the most critical aspect of the rehabilitation process; learning how to survive in the wild. One of the most enjoyable experiences is to watch the young orangutans experiencing their first taste of wild life by climbing through the understory, sampling different wild foods, and building small day nests. Caretakers are continually on the scene, monitoring behavior and interactions and measuring each orangutan’s progress towards independence and eventual release
The small group of permanent residents at OCCQ is the focus of a new enrichment program that will hopefully include daily outings outside the enclosure, physical therapy, and a wider variety of objects within the enclosure including large plastic buckets for sitting and nesting, ropes to encourage more physical activity, and the use of wooden puzzle boxes containing food for mental stimulation. In the future, it will be possible for individuals to “adopt” these residents to provide much needed funding for their new enrichment program. A recent volunteer group unofficially adopted Bali, a female orangutan with limited use of her legs after a paralyzing infection in 2004, and purchased a hammock, plastic bucket, and several towels to improve Bali’s quality of life. The difference in Bali is readily observable: she is more interested in the activities around her, more physically and mentally active, and healthier.
Two new residents to the OCCQ are also being integrated into the enrichment program. A rambunctious female sun bear with a deformed right front paw and a beautiful flightless cassowary are given browse to forage and nest in and rotten logs full of ants and termites to meet their nutritional and exploratory needs. In the future, these unique animals will also be available for adoption so that a long-term enrichment and husbandry program can be sustained. It is our goal to create natural micro-ecosystems within their enclosures, complete with vegetative layers and a community of micro and macro organisms that help to maintain the biochemical processes that recycle nutrients through the system.
The current Enrichment Coordinator at OCCQ, Ibu Maryanti, has over 15 years of working experience with orangutans, including three in enrichment.
The current Enrichment Coordinator at OCCQ, Ibu Maryanti, has over 15 years of working experience with orangutans, including three in enrichment. She believes that enrichment is very important for orangutans because it encourages interest and curiosity while helping to prevent boredom and apathy inside the enclosures. One of her favorite enrichment items is a small ball woven from locally produced rattan fibers. These are natural and safe toys that can easily be filled with peanuts, raisins, and popcorn. The young orangutans in particular enjoy the mental challenge of extracting the treats from inside the balls. With so many orangutans to provide enrichment for, it can often be an overwhelming task for Ibu Maryanti, but she always strives to maintain standards of fairness in the program so that each orangutan in her care is given the same enrichment as all of the others.
She comments that “enrichment is in her heart” and that her job “makes her happy because the orangutans are happy.” One of the greatest challenges of enrichment is providing enough materials to keep the orangutans stimulated but not encouraging an attachment to humans, especially for those that will be returning to the wild. It costs about 1,000,000 rupiah (~$100.00US) each month for the enrichment program and Ibu would greatly appreciate having a full-time assistant to help her with the more difficult parts of her job.
The OCCQ is in great need of more supplies and funding for enrichment. It is so important to provide daily enrichment for these intelligent animals, many of which will directly contribute to the survival of the orangutan species in the wild. Enrichment materials include old towels, burlap sacks, strong rubber toys (i.e., Kong), rope, PVC piping, and stuffed animals for the nursery. Items can be shipped directly to:
- Attn: Ibu Maryanti
- Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine
- Jl. Kumpai Batu,
- Pasir Panjang
- Tromol posl,
- Pangkalan Bun
- 74112. Kalteng
Supplies can also be donated by contacting the OFI office in Los Angeles, who will give them to volunteers to be carried over to Indonesia. Donations are of course always welcome and needed. Money can be sent directly for the enrichment program via OFI’s website.