Feeding orangutans - a new approach

“Why do you do it like that?” “That’s the way it has always been done.”

One of the standards in orangutan rehabilitation is released orangutans are fed on a platform.

Pondok Tanggui -feeding platfrom

Feeding platform

Old feeding platform

Photos showing the feeding platforms that have always been used.

Everyone does it; as do we. But then we got to thinking there has to be a better way. Wild orangutans, especially in Borneo, rarely if ever, feed in groups. So why should ex-captives?

Without the platform though, how do you feed them? By hand is not an option. So we thought “put a bucket on a tree”. No, the orangutans will destroy a bucket in seconds. OK, use a cooking pot. Imagine the noise they would make banging that around, plus they will rip it off the tree! Alright then, use an inside out car tyre as a bucket. Fine, but how are you going to attach it; we don’t want to bore into the tree? Here’s an idea, when you cut off the side walls to invert the tyre, use the off-cuts as straps to hold the tyre against the tree.

New Feeding 2

Old tyres- they have many uses, if not for fire beaters then as a feeding bucket

So we’re settled: the food goes in the car tyre strapped to the tree. But how do you give them their milk (which many love more than fruit)? Cups – they’ll break, be lost and will become litter. Water bottles – even worse. Let’s try coconuts. Cut the top off, pour the milk in, put the coconut in the tyre; if the orangutans drop it, it will be easy to find and even if we don’t it is hardly litter.

All good then - let’s try it.

New feeding 1

Its a good job our assistants are tree climbers too!

New feeding 3

New Feeding 4

The feeding system has been running in Camp Siswoyo for a month now. It is not perfect. More than one orangutan may descend on each tyre. Some still walk on the ground between the feeding trees. We are buying an awful lot of coconuts – the orangutans drink the milk then eat the nut! It is more work on the staff and they have to be quick to get the food out.

New Feeding 5

But is it better than the platforms? Oh yes. You can ensure a fairer distribution of food. It lessens competition, facilitates giving medication when necessary and it keeps the orangutans feeding in the trees.

New feeding 6 -mother & infant

The system needs to be tweaked, but as a first attempt at a new idea we are all delighted with the result. And here’s where I have to add a thank you not only to Tigor and his staff for their enthusiasm to give it a go, but also to Jodie and Peter: the endless night’s talking about how we could make individual feedings work were worth it!

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