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First orangutan students attend their lessons in the rainforest


For more than a year, the international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS, together with its local partner Jejak Pulang, and the Indonesian government, has been setting up a new rehabilitation project for orangutans in Borneo. Now the time has finally come: Today, the new FOUR PAWS ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL in East Kalimantan has opened, and the first school year can begin. Eight orangutan orphans between the ages of eleven months and nine years will be the first students to attend the 100-hectare FOREST SCHOOL run by the FOUR PAWS’ experienced primatologist Dr. Signe Preuschoft. Dr. Preuschoft works with an Indonesian team of 15 animal caretakers, a biologist and two veterinarians who will intensively care for the orangutans and prepare them for release back into the rainforest.



Up to now, FOUR PAWS took in the eight orangutan orphans, who all had to watch their mothers being cruelly killed, usually victims of the palm oil, tropical timber and coal industries. “The goal of the project is to train these orangutans so that in a few years, when they reach the appropriate age, they will be able to return to a natural forest and live there completely free and independent,” explains Dr. Signe Preuschoft.

© BOSF | FOUR PAWS | Adzwari Ridzki

First day at FOREST SCHOOL

Setting up the project in the middle of Borneo’s rainforest is a major logistical challenge, and the infrastructure of the FOREST SCHOOL is still in the making. However, the orangutan orphans need to spend as much time in their natural environment as possible. As a result, from now on a first group of five orangutans travel daily from their current sleeping quarters to the FOREST SCHOOL in the “school bus”. There they learn with their human surrogate mothers the skills that their birth mothers would normally teach them. For example, the curriculum includes climbing, foraging, and building a sleeping nest. Next month, they will be able to move into their new sleeping quarters, just across the river bordering the FOREST SCHOOL.

The animal welfare issue

The orangutans in East Kalimantan need all the help they can get. Only about 50,000 Bornean orangutans are left, indicating a population decline of roughly 80% since 1950. In the same period, approximately three quarters of Borneo’s rain forest have been converted for human purposes, mainly into industrial agriculture or coal mining areas, leaving orangutans little choice other than starvation or eating from human plantations. This exposes them to orangutan-human conflict with the danger of being killed as crop raiders and pests. Defenceless orphans are plucked off their dying mothers’ bodies and illegally kept or sold as pets. By supporting Jejak Pulang FOUR PAWS helps these orangutan orphans to receive expert care and individual rehabilitation thus providing them a second chance to return to where they belong - the rain forest. Successfully rehabilitated and re-introduced orangutans will contribute to the survival of one of the closest living relatives to humans in the wild. Bornean orangutans are classified on the IUCN red list as critically endangered.


Saving orangutans contributes more than just protection of individual animals. In their natural habitat, re-introduced orangutans can serve as umbrella species, providing, by their very presence, protection to other endangered species such as rhinoceros, clouded leopard, sun bears, hornbills, and many more.



The rehabilitation programme for orphan orangutans is run by a team of 19; among them animal caretakers, behaviour experts and vets. The project is led by FOUR PAWS’ specialist for apes, Dr Signe Preuschoft, a primatologist with over 20 years of experience with the rehabilitation of traumatised apes.


The rehabilitation process in the FOUR PAWS ORANGUTAN FOREST SCHOOL is aligned with the natural development of immature orangutan and follows a science-based curriculum. Most confiscated orangutans are orphans younger than 5 years old. As infants these orangutans are too young to be released and live independently, they still need (human) surrogate mothers and dedicated nurturing before they can fend for themselves in the wild. Depending on their age, psychological condition and prior knowledge, the orangutans start their education in the FOREST SCHOOL at different levels; kindergarten, forest school, or orangutan academy. Importantly, every orangutan will pass through the successive training steps according to his/her individual speed and level of competence.