Our first working day at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project was spent on “enrichment” for the great apes. Tired but happy we are back in our room after a very sweaty day.
Enrichment describes methods and items that entertain and stimulate animals in captivity. It is considered even more important than the size of their enclosure. If the animals are not kept physically and mentally active they become stressed and develop aggressive or stereotypical behavior (rocking or running back and forth in the cage). There are structural (e.g. climbing platform), food-based, object and sensory enrichment types to consider.
The animals in Samboja are either in a re-release program or are given a save home to live in case they cannot be re-released into the wild (this could be because of physical or psychological injuries from humans or because of illnesses like tuberculosis). In either case, giving them interesting things to do is a key aspect of their well being.
Our morning was spent filling small water bottles with items of food (nuts, leaves, popcorn, etc.) and freshly prepared watermelon juice. This should give them a task (trying out ways to get the food out) and a treat at the same time. Another enrichment item was prepared by filling and freezing small plastic bags with watermelon juice and nuts. Giving the bottles to the orangutans gave a great finish to this activity. It was amazing to observe the different ways different animals went about to retrieve the food. Most of them had received this enrichment before and had their favorite technique, e.g. pulling out the leaves or biting through the bottle. One of the youngest ones however had not and spend a long time analyzing the strange item with big eyes.
Other commen enrichment items are prepared from bamboo tubes, so we spend the afternoon chopping and cutting huge bamboo trunks with machetes and hand saws. After a few minutes everyone was dripping with sweat, little bamboo hairs started itching on the skin and large ants were biting if you interfered with their business. We will feel this day in our bones tomorrow, but it’s great to know you are making the lives of these beautiful orangutans a little bit better.