Before they can be released to the wild, the orangutans have to learn how to survive in the forest – a process, that takes months.
After their socialisation in the quarantine station, healthy orangutans are transferred to the SOCP's reintroduction center in Jambi. The center lies on the border of Bukit Tigapuluh National Park and was established by our partner, the Frankfurt Zoological Society. After their arrival in Jambi and some time to settle in to the large cages there, deep in the forest, and to recover from the transition, the orangutans begin to learn, step-by-step, how to survive in the forest – a process, that takes several months, and even years in some cases. They have to learn everything again, often from scratch in the case of those captured from the wild as very young infants. One of the most important things to figure out is which plants are edible, what constitutes food and where and when they can find it. Even then, with some foods, such as the very thorny rotan palm or termite nests, finding the food is not enough in itself, as they also have to learn how to process and eat it. Another essential survival skill is how to build a comfortable sleeping nest in the trees. Wild orangutans are adept at making springy platforms in the trees to sleep on by bending and weaving leafy branches together and it is their best way of avoiding ground dwelling predators and soil borne parasites and pathogens.
Usually, an infant learns all of these skills from its mother during the first several years of its life. In the reintroduction center, however, the orangutans must be reminded or taught from scratch by SOCP field staff, a process that can take place very slowly and gradually over many months. To achieve this, most of the orangutans are taken out of their cages in the morning and spend the day in the trees with staff and other orangutans, exploring and investigating everything they find. The staff will also look for particular foods and eat (or pretend to eat ...) them just as their mothers would have done, showing the orangutans how it is done. In the case of bigger or more dangerous orangutans that cannot be handled without anaesthesia, they must spend longer in the cages and as many as possible forest foods are brought to them instead. When they are eventually released, at least they know what is food when they find it, and what to do with it.