The Happier Life of Samarinda - Update

Untung (left) and Pingpong (right)

When I was first asked to go to Samarinda Zoo in Indonesia and continue the work of the Appeal I had no idea what would be in store for me over the next 5 months. My role was to help improve animal welfare and enrichment, yet I never imagined I would be lucky enough to be involved in an orangutan rescue, and get to look after a 6 month old baby orangutan!

My first task was to implement a new cleaning regime, and start the improvement of all the existing animal cages and enclosures. On my arrival, many of the primate cages were accessible to the public who were frequently observed giving food to, and touching, the animals. All enclosures were devoid of enrichment, with no structures to enable them to climb, which meant they were only able to sit on the cage floor. Through the continuing hard work of the keepers, all cages are now drastically improved, with netting to keep the tourists at a suitable distance, information boards, and a variety of substrates were installed including wood, ropes, tyres, and hammocks made from rice sacks. The animals also get novel enrichment daily ranging from leaves and puzzle feeders, to old clothes and coconuts!

To prepare the orangutans for a potential return to the wild we continued with the weekly forest school in which the orangutans are encouraged to traverse through the treetops, forage and make nests. One of the students, 3 year old Pingpong, is particularly shy around the other orangutans and much prefers to sit on the ground hugging himself. However, we had a breakthrough in my last few weeks, and he ventured high up into the trees to explore his forest surroundings, and even had a wrestling match with Oki!

Apart from the veterinary treatment administered by our vet Nigel on his visit in September there was no regular veterinary presence at the zoo. Through guidance from myself and Nigel, the orangutans now receive regular health checks and de-worming treatment, and are now looking much happier and hairier! To our delight in my last week, Untung, a 2 year old orangutan previously diagnosed with Hepatitis B, has now been declared disease free, and is now able to mix with the other orangutans. To start him off gently, and to hopefully give Pingpong a bit more confidence with the other orangutans we have paired them up, and after a tentative first introduction they are now happily residing together before being introduced to the other orangutans in the enclosure.

During my time in Samarinda, we have also had the addition of 2 new orangutans. Memo, a 6 year old female, who was rescued by COP and the Appeal’s Ape Crusader team, and Uci, a 6 month old female, whose owners handed her over to the zoo. Unfortunately, Memo has Hepatitis B so is unable to mix with the other orangutans, however she is an extremely happy orangutan, and is always energetically swinging around her cage! Uci is progressing well, already confidently climbing in trees and eating lots of leaves. Although quite independent she still needs lots of love, and happily clings to you as you go about your daily work.

As my time at Samarinda has come to an end, I would like to personally thank all the animal keepers and COP for their unwavering support and hard work, and of course thank all the Appeal’s supporters, without which we would not have been able to achieve half of what has been completed. With the continuing support of the Appeal I am sure the zoo will grow from strength to strength, and the welfare of all the animals at the zoo will continue to be maintained and improved. 

Liz Winterton
Primatologist (Junior). Orangutan Appeal UK