An animal rescue worker holds an orangutan baby. (AP)

An animal rescue worker holds an orangutan baby. (AP)

The rescue workers have to check the orangutans for illness before they release them back into the wild. (AP)

The rescue workers have to check the orangutans for illness before they release them back into the wild. (AP)

Orangutans have babies just once every eight years, so rescue workers treat each with care, carrying them back to the forest. (AP)

Orangutans have babies just once every eight years, so rescue workers treat each with care, carrying them back to the forest. (AP)

Because they grew up without mothers, these orangutans learn how to swing in trees and live in the wild from rescue workers. (AP)

Because they grew up without mothers, these orangutans learn how to swing in trees and live in the wild from rescue workers. (AP)

Once trained, the orangutans are released back into safe rainforests. (AP)

Once trained, the orangutans are released back into safe rainforests. (AP)

Jungle School

Posted: November 1, 2017

Look at those big eyes and little smiles! No wonder people want baby orangutans as pets! But taking a little orangutan from its mother has serious consequences. Those will jerk on your heartstrings too—and not in a good way.

Orangutans depend on their moms until they are eight years old. That’s longer than any other animal. Mom teaches her baby to survive in the wild. She shows him how to climb a tree, build a nest, and what to eat (fruit, flowers, bark, and bugs). Mom and baby sleep together in the same night nest. They even hold hands when they walk.

Orangutans have babies only every eight years. When a poacher kills a mom and steals her baby, the world hasn’t lost just one orangutan. It has lost the babies the mother might have had if she had lived. It is illegal to own a pet orangutan in Indonesia. So when authorities hear about one kept as a pet, they take it away from its owners. But the babies can’t just go live in the wild. They need someone to teach them how.

Animal rescue workers on Borneo put the baby apes in “jungle school.” They want each one to graduate and return to the wild. A graduate must know how to build a nest and look for food. Workers teach them other lessons too: Termites are an important source of protein. Move your sleeping nests often so nothing attacks you at night. Climb only thick trees—not ones as skinny as cage bars. But the workers aren’t bonding with the animals. Baby orangutans need to learn to fear predators—humans most of all.

Once, orangutans could travel across the entire island of Borneo by swinging from tree to tree. But now graduating apes have very little forest to go home to.