Semboja – Gerhana was on the brink of death when he
was rescued, starved, underweight and with an air rifle bullet lodged
in his left shoulder and no hair.
But now, the 11-month-old orangutan with reddish crew-cut hair can
move from one tree to another with agility and eats forest food with
Gerhana is one of eight “pupils” at the newly established forest
school founded by Austria-based conservation group Four Paws in a
rainforest on the Indonesian part of Borneo island, where orphan
orangutans will be raised in a way that matches their species’ natural
upbringing in the wild.
“The goal of the project is to train these orangutans so that in a few
years, they will be able to return to a natural forest and live there
completely free and independent,” said Signe Preuschoft, an
experienced primatologist who heads the school.
Preuschoft runs the school with local conservation group Jalan Pulang
and an Indonesian team of 15 animal caretakers, a biologist and two
veterinarians, with support from the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry
The orangutans travel daily from their sleeping quarters to the school
and learn with their human surrogate mothers the skills that their
birth mothers would normally teach them, such as climbing, foraging
and building a sleeping nest.
They are divided into different classes, depending their individual
development level and pace, Preuschoft said.
Gonda was kept by a family of farmers who treated him like a human
child, resulting in his muscles and use of hands and feet being
Now at 17 months, he can hang upside down and hold onto a branch with
only his legs.
“Gonda still has a long way to unlearn his human dependence and enjoy
orangutan-appropriate behaviors,” Preuschoft said.
“Eating forest foods and playing in the trees are his biggest
challenges,” she said.