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

ANKORS among Columbia Basin Trust grant recipients

ANKORS is receiving $60,000 for a health promotion project

First 3D metal printer in rural Canada arrives at MIDAS Lab in Trail

MIDAS provides access to state-of-the-art equipment for fabrication and rapid prototyping

Learn to curl with Nelson Curling Club

The club is hosting clinic on Jan. 18

Whitewater’s Adam Kuch among winners at Junior Freeski event

The ski resort’s ninth annual freeski competition was held last weekend

Nelson residents living with dementia break silence on stigma

Dawn Sutcliffe was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 60

VIDEO: Kootenay Patricks assemble for first practice ahead of charity game

The group of locals will play Montreal Canadiens alumni next week

Oil and gas industry applauds Supreme Court’s dismissal of B.C. TMX case

The high court’s ruling Thursday removes one of the remaining obstacles for the project

Airliner crash a mistake that pleased Iran’s enemies: Supreme Leader Khamenei

Iran’s supreme leader says dowining of Flight 752 was a bitter accident in rare sermon

Sub-zero B.C. weather freezes clothing in just 45 minutes

A local photographer decided to have some fun with the frosty weather before its gone

Special prosecutor to review Cranbrook toddler drowning case

Evidence disclosure at issue in the case of a woman sentenced for criminal negligence causing death

UPDATE: Supreme Court dismisses B.C.’s appeal in Trans Mountain pipeline case

Judges decide whether B.C.’s power to protect environment can include impeding a federal project

10 B.C. cities break temperature records in winter storm

Quesnel dipped to -41.9 C, breaking a record from 1916

Vancouver Island child struck, pinned under SUV while sledding

Boy suffers serious injuries, no charges laid in incident

Most Read