Young Orangutans eat bananas at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. A University of British Columbia professor is sharing her experiences about helping run a “jungle school” that rehabilitates orphaned orangutans back into the wild. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)

UBC scientist to share experiences rehabilitating orangutans in Indonesia

Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves spent eight years with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation

A University of British Columbia researcher is sharing her experiences helping run a “jungle school” in Indonesia that rehabilitates orphaned orangutans back into the wild.

Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves spent eight years with the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991 to deal with the large numbers of orphaned and illegally held orangutans in need of rehabilitation.

“A lot of what we do focuses on rescuing orangutans in areas of conflict, oil palm plantations, areas that were burned, areas that have had habitat disturbances, but also rescuing infants found in villages,” she said.

Sunderland-Groves, who’s now a research scientist with the UBC faculty of forestry’s Wildlife Co-existence Lab, is giving a talk about her experience running the foundation at Vancouver’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum on Sunday.

It takes about six to eight years for an orangutan to graduate the foundation’s “jungle school,” depending on how young the animals are when they come in, she said in an interview Friday.

“The baby starts baby school and then goes up to forest school 1 and forest school level 2,” she said. “Between the ages of six and eight, they become very strong … and that’s when they progress to naturally vegetated areas or pre-release islands.”

The school teaches the great apes the skills needed to survive in the wild that they would normally have learned from their mothers, Sunderland-Groves said.

That includes how to climb trees, which foods to eat and which to avoid, how to build night nests and how to avoid predators. Staff teach by example, which helps the young orangutans learn.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 70,000 orangutans remain in Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Sunderland-Groves said the biggest threat to the animals’ habitat comes from the clearing of land for palm oil plantations, with conflict and forest fires adding to the problem.

The foundation has two centres in Indonesia, housing about 550 orangutans. Since 2012, the organization has reintroduced 378 of the auburn-maned apes into the wild.

A successful reintroduction is one where the animal survives for a full year in the forest, Sunderland-Groves said.

This means the ape has learned to adapt to all the seasons by foraging for other vegetation at times when fruit is less plentiful in the forest.

The foundation fits the animals with a radio transmitter before reintroduction so their progress can be monitored.

Teachers and babysitters become quite attached to the apes, she said, with each animal having its own personality and characteristics.

“But just seeing an orangutan come out of a cage and climb straight up to the forest and knowing that’s the last time they are going to be in a cage is just great,” she said.

While Indonesia is on the other side of the globe, Sunderland-Groves said it’s important for people in Canada to care about these creatures because they share 97 per cent of the same DNA as humans.

“From Borneo to British Columbia, we have exactly the same problems to a certain degree,” she said, adding both areas are affected by forest fires and timber extraction, leading to human-wildlife conflict.

“We share this planet and we have a duty to protect it.”

The rehabilitation “school” that Sunderland-Groves helped establish is also the subject of a 10-part documentary series set to air on the Love Nature channel.

“Orangutan Jungle School” premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. and runs for 10 weeks.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There has been COVID-19 exposures at two elementary schools in District 42. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 24 additional COVID-19 cases

This includes three school exposures in Kelowna

City Hall in Cranbrook.
Housing study identifies shifting demographics in Cranbrook

Gaps in Cranbrook’s housing stock include shifting demographics and a mismatch of… Continue reading

File photo
Two arrested near Creston after allegedly fleeing U.S. border agents in Idaho

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

With classrooms equipped with specialty broadcast equipment, College of the Rockies faculty members like Kevil Szol, Electrician instructor, are able to create virtual classrooms for their students. (COTR file)
College of the Rockies to continue virtual classes during winter semester

A full slate of programs are offered online, blended with face to face learning

Neighbourly Northern Flicker and friend drop by for a visit. Miriam Saville photo
Urban wildlife Part V: The East Kootenay birds of autumn

The work of local photographers printed in the pages of the East Kootenay Advertiser over the spring, summer and fall of 2020. Part V.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Most Read