We quickly picked up transmitter signals for Mardianto and Compost – two of our more recently released orangutans, who had been observed spending time together over the past few weeks. Our luck didn’t stop there, however. A short way upriver from this happy pair we detected a strong signal for Dewi, a 21-year-old female who was released just over a year ago.
What good fortune, I thought, since Dewi hadn’t been tracked for several months. Jagau and I set out on foot to find her, which was rather unfortunate for Jagau as he had expected to stay in the boat all day and had failed to bring shoes! After some searching, we found Dewi in a sangkuangtree happily munching on its small fruits. I was so excited to find such an elusive orangutan and so invested in taking detailed notes on her position and initial reaction to seeing people, that I didn’t notice the tiny orange bulge half-hiding behind her head: A new infant!
When Jagau spotted the infant, we shouted with joy at the new discovery and Dewi stared intently down at us, seemingly waiting to see whether she needed to be alarmed by those calls. Lucky for us, she only turned away from us, hiding her young baby from our sight. It will take us some time before we can determine the sex of the baby. The baby’s face is still very pink, and we estimated it is around four months old.
Long-time followers of the BOS Foundation’s released orangutans in Batikap will remember that Dewi, along with two other females from the 10th release group, was observed mating with flanged male Tarzan soon after finding freedom in the forest. Whether Dewi continued to copulate with Tarzan or mated with another released orangutan remains unknown, but we believe it is more likely that this infant is Tarzan’s offspring. This would make the newborn a product of a first-released and tenth-released orangutan pair.
During that first day of observation, Dewi and her new baby mainly kept to themselves in the trees. Dewi ate while the infant was watching us with its big brown eyes, occasionally pulling the fruits from Dewi’s mouth to try for itself and instantly spitting them back out (Dewi is a tolerant mother indeed). We lost sight of them that day, when Dewi disappeared through a thick of spikey rattan and could no longer be tracked until her transmitter turned back on the following morning.
The next day I went back, accompanied by Nanggau. Unfortunately, Dewi wasn’t so tolerant of being observed this time around. She frequently descended from the trees and moved towards us, alternating between quadrupedal and bipedal walking as the baby clung on tightly to her neck and back. Even from a distance, we could tell the that infant already had a tight grip.
We lost sight of them after backing away a little too far, but the mother-infant pair was quite easy to relocate as the baby began crying incessantly! We rushed over to see what caused the commotion and were greeted by Dewi again moving back down from the trees and coming towards us, this time at a much faster pace. We backed off again and later returned to find them in a large tree overhanging the river. Her baby continued crying while Dewi alternated between slapping her body, rubbing her back against the trunk of the tree, and pulling at her and the poor baby’s hair – an ant attack! Somewhere along the way, they must have bothered an ant nest and had become covered in its angry inhabitants. Having done the same thing in the field several times, I could surely sympathize with the baby’s cries and Dewi’s frantic scratching. I can only imagine how much harder it must be to brush ants out of that long red hair!
It took more than an hour for the baby to finally calm down and return to peacefully watching Dewi go about her day from upon her shoulder. Dewi remained wary of our presence after the episode, however, and continued to descend and advance toward us bipedally whenever she caught sight of us.
Dewi was not known to prefer bipedal movement beforehand. Perhaps her hands were sore from the bites? Perhaps she was still adjusting to the difficulty of carrying a baby – for although his grip appeared tight, the baby’s preferred resting positions were somewhat awkward. It seemed to stick close to Dewi’s head and shoulders, and at one point flopped completely over her face, just managing to catch onto her mouth with its feet. Dewi seemed unperturbed though; she simply flopped the baby back over and continued eating.
We stayed with Dewi and her baby until they nested for the night, high up in the trees. Just beforehand, however, we heard the tell-tale rustling and branch breaking of someone else setting up nest for the night in the trees nearby. Could it have been Compost or Mardianto, who we had seen along the river earlier? Could it be Tarzan, who still frequents the area, checking in on one of his mates and his potential offspring? We can’t say for sure just yet what dynamic is at play here, but we will definitely keep our eyes peeled over the coming weeks.
Text by: Coral, PRM Team volunteer in Batikap Conservation Forest