The objective of the Orangutan Care Centre & Quarantine (OCCQ) is to rehabilitate orangutans so they can be released into the Lamandau Wildlife Reserve. Tragically, some orangutans, like Montana below, arrive at the OCCQ with such bad injuries that this will never be an option for them. For these individuals we must try and provide as best conditions as possible and at this point our work changes from conservation to welfare. Montana -Peter Ellen

Montana (photo by Peter Ellen)

Montana is the oldest and biggest orangutan at the OCCQ. Well on his way to adulthood, he was confiscated in 1994 when he was approximately 5 years old. He had been shot in the head and, as a result, is blind in his left eye. He has a paralysed left leg and only partial use of his right arm. He can be aggressive with people and has long-since reached an age when he is intolerant of other orangutans, so has to stay by himself. Unfortunately, Montana can never be released into a normal forest situation as his injuries have left him weakened and unable to compete with other orangutans, and there is a risk he would become a “nuisance” raiding villagers’ crops. I could write more about him but suffice it to say, like Violet, he is one of the ‘special ones’, one of the orangutans who has been especially cruelly treated by fate and humankind.

At the Orangutan Care Centre and Quarantine (OCCQ) we are lucky in that the surrounding nursery forest provides completely natural enrichment for the majority of our orangutans. The forests have everything they’ll need for learning the skills and developing the muscles required to survive in the wild. Unfortunately, as I have said before, not every orangutan goes out every day. For most of the older orangutans it is every second day. However, for some, it is much less frequent. Some refuse to come back at the end of the day, or they roam too far – there are power lines on the road alongside the nursery forest. Some do not want to mix with the other orangutans (orangutans are semi-solitary in the wild). For these orangutans that don’t get out to the forest, enrichment is necessary for their welfare.

I spent the other Sunday cleaning up my garden and I felled an old, straggly, banana tree. There was only one place for it to go. Ashley, the director of the Orangutan Foundation, helped me take it to the OCCQ, especially for Montana.

Montana with banana tree

In Montana cage

Montana with banana stalk

Struggling, we rammed the banana stalk as far as it would go into Montana’s enclosure. He reached out a massive hand, wrapped his sausage-sized fingers around the end of the stalk and, seemingly effortlessly, pulled it in. Then he set to work, peeling off the outer skin and slurping up the juicy central pith. And he did it for hours.

Young orangutans with banana leaves

Banana leaves

Banana leaves 2

Some of the younger orangutans in the cage next to Montana's pleased with their share of the banana tree.

This is meant as a simple story - what we did cost nothing, but it meant a great deal. Montana worked that stalked to its very end and he nested in the leaves for two nights.

By the way you’ll be relieved to hear, that as I type, it is raining outside – long may it continue!