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Orangutan Friendships: The Power of Numbers


The orangutans from our last release group (Nyaru Menteng 12th Orangutan Release) have settled in at Batikap, and are beginning to go their separate ways. The excitement of freedom has worn off, and most of the orangutans seem to be branching off alone rather than spending time together. But, not all.

Both Gina and Sofi have been observed spending time with some of our longer-released orangutans. Gina has found companionship and playmates in the mother-infant pair of Jambi and Jamartin. Sofi, meanwhile, has been socialising a lot with Compost and stays close to her, as though she is a security blanket.

 

Sofi and Compost

Shortly after her release, Sofi stayed close by Olbert and Nobri, who were released at the same time. Sofi seemed happy and comfortable in her new home, spending her days indulging in all of the various fruits on offer. However, once her release mates moved off on their own, our Post-Release Monitoring (PRM) team noticed a changed in her demeanour. Sofi suddenly became very defensive when she realised she was being observed by our PRM team, and kiss-squeaked angrily while breaking branches off over the heads of her observers. Clearly, Sofi did not want to be disturbed any longer. Imagine our surprise, then, when one month later our team stumbled upon a calm and reserved Sofi, one who barely took notice that she was being watched.  She hardly seemed like the same orangutan.

What seems to have triggered this change in Sofi is her relationship with Compost. Sofi has been observed following Compost’s lead, feeding when she feeds and making her nest when Compost makes hers. On one particular evening, Sofi spent more than 40 minutes building and perfecting her night nest while Compost ate nearby, only to abandon it the minute Compost left that tree. Sofi is behaving like a love-smitten teenager!

 

Not only has Sofi been watching and learning the ways of the forest from Compost, but she also seems to be learning how to behave around humans. Sofi is beginning to take less notice of the silent observers below her and is starting to feed lower and lower in the trees. She has yet to join Compost in searching for termites on the ground while the PRM team is around, however, but her marked change is still amazing.

It seems Sofi is not that different to Compost when she was newly released. Back in 2015, we spent days chasing Compost in the forest, only to catch a few glimpses of her before she would disappear again behind the vines and rattan. Compost, too, was shy and alarmed by human presence and was more confident when she had a pal around. Just as humans might be more comfortable in a new place accompanied by friends, so too do orangutans find strength in numbers.

Text and Photos by: Coral, PRM Team volunteer in Batikap Conservation Forest

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