Volunteer with Oranguatans

Volunteer with Orangutans

For those who have ever wanted to volunteer with Orangutans; you may be in luck when volunteering in Indonesia. The Indonesia Wildlife Sanctuary is currently home to two rescued orangutans.

Introducing the ‘Man of the Forest’

The literal translation of Orangutan translates into 'man of the forest'. It comes from Malay and Bahasa Indonesian orang (man) and hutan (forest). Orangutans are unique in many ways. They are the world’s largest tree climbing mammal and they are the only species of great ape to make their home in Asia. Recognised as being amongst the most intelligent of primates; with the ability to use a range of tools and prepare sleeping nests to provide comfort and weather protection. Their hair is a distinctive reddish colour instead of the brown or black of other great apes.

Orangutans maintain the characteristic ape like shape but whilst they have shorter weaker legs, their arms are longer than other species; their arms can reach a span of up to 2m in length. This has been any evolutionary development; due to spending the vast proportion of their time in the trees away from predators and other dangers.

Orangutans are now only native to two countries, Indonesia and Malaysia. However there is fossil evidence that indicates that the species was once more widely spread; to Java, the Thai-Malay Peninsula, Vietnam and Mainland China. They currently make their home in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. However their habitat is continously decreasing due to palm oil plantations.

There are two species of Orangutan (one is  further divided into three sub species). Both species are classed as critically endangered:

Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
Northwest populations - Pongo pygmaeus pygmaeus
East populations - Pongo pygmaeus morio
Southwest populations - Pongo pygmaeus wurmbii
Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

Orangutan Social Life and Breeding

Orangutans are a great deal more solitary than the other great apes. Adults of both sexes have their own home ranges. The ranges of the female are smaller and tend to overlap each other. One or more of these ranges are include the range of a male who will be their primary breeding partner.

The main form of social bonding is between a mother and her offspring. Baby orangutans are totally dependent on their mothers for the first two years of their lives; they travel, eat and sleep with them. They are considered juveniles from the age of two to five. At this point they will start to make trips away and become more independent.

The Orangutan has the largest interval between births of the great apes; at an average of eight years. Due to the time it takes to reach maturity, the large interval between births and the fact they only normally give birth to one baby, the reproductive rate of the species is extremely slow. This makes the Orangutan population highly susceptible to an above average death rate. And they are very slow to recover numbers afterwards.

Orangutan Diet

Fruit makes up for around 60-90% of the Orangutan’s diet. The preferred fruits are high in sugar or have a fatty pulp. They also eat foliage, bark, seeds, bulbs, insects, honey, bird’s eggs and soil. The soil can provide minerals as well absorb toxins and treat stomach problems.

They obtain water from the fruits they eat and from where it gathers in holes in the trees. Orangutans are opportunistic foragers leading to an overall intake that changes with the seasons and the current location on their range.

Orangutan Population

Orangutan populations are concentrated in a geographically small area; now found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in Southeast Asia. The fact that they inhabit dense forest areas makes their numbers hard to accurately count. A study performed by the Indonesian Government in 2007 estimated there was a total of 61,200 Orangutans living in the wild; with 54,500 of those being on the island of Borneo.

Orangutans Under Threat

Due to the very limited areas in which Orangutans live today the destruction of their habitat is the greatest threat to survival. This destruction has been caused by human activity: such as large scale commercial logging, illegal logging & mining and forest clearance for agriculture, road building and an ever growing number of oil palm plantations.

El Nino weather patterns has also caused a rise in the number of forest fires. As well as careless humans who engage in the activities listed above. WWF-Indonesia estimates that in 1997 in Indonesia they burnt nearly two million hectares of land. They also estimated that thousands of fires occurred; mainly in central and west Kalimantan and southern Sumatra.

Sadly mankind still deliberately exploits Orangutans; particularly killing them for food particularly when fire destroys local agriculture causing food shortages. They are also hunted when they move in to an agricultural area and destroy crops; this is becoming a more common problem as their natural habitat dwindles.

The pet trade has a big impact upon Orangutan numbers with a big demand for the young in Southeast Asia; particularly Indonesia due to their status as a status symbol. This leads to females being hunted more often than male orangutans; if caught with offspring, these can be sold. The animal welfare organization TRAFFIC estimates as many as 15 Orangutans die to get one live baby to market.
Sources: WWF, Wikipedia, Animal Planet. Orangutan.org

Volunteer with Orangutans in Indonesia

If you are volunteering at the Indonesia Wildlife Sanctuary you may get the opportunity to volunteer with Orangutans. The wildlife sanctuary is home to two orangutans, rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Volunteering with orangutans is an amazing way to encounter and work with this critically endangered great ape.

By volunteering at the Indonesia Wildlife Sanctuary, you will be able to support orangutan conservation efforts. You will be helping to protect the species. Volunteering with the orangutans is often the highlight of a volunteer's experience at the sanctuary.

The mission of the project is the rescue, rehabilitation and release of native species. Sometimes it is not possible to release rescued wildlife; if they are no longer able to survive in the wild or if there is not a suitable, safe location to release them. The project provides a safe and respectful environment for rescued animals.

You can learn more about what it is like to volunteer at the sanctuary by reading about previous volunteers experiences here.

If you are interested in volunteering with Orangutans, then you can find out more about helping at the Indonesia Wildlife Sanctuary here.