For orangutans to be able to survive in the wild it is necessary to learn a special set of survival skills. The babies learn these skills from their mother – or, if they are in Forest School, from the caretakers.

Climbing, nest building and finding the right kind of food.

These are some of the skills that are absolutely vital for an orangutan to be able to survive on its own in the rainforest. The young orangutans usually learn these skills from their mother. The orphaned orangutans at the Rehabilitation Centres are taught by caretakers in Forest School, where they are trained to master these skills.

Below we have gathered 10 of the most important orangutan survival skills with short videos from the Rehabilitation Centre. All video material is from BOS Foundation.

1. Nest building

Wild orangutans build nests high up in the trees to rest in during the day and sleep in at night. In their treetop nests they are safe from the dangers lurking on the forest floor and protected from the elements. The orangutans gather branches and leaves every day to build a new nest – that is what the young orangutans in the video are practicing.

2. Predator Avoidance

To survive in the rainforest it is vital to know about the dangers lurking around the corner and how to stay away from them. Orangutans have very few natural predators. Young orangutans are the most susceptible to forest predators, like clouded leopards, crocodiles, large pythons, and venomous snakes.
Therefore, the young orangutans in Forest School are taught about the dangers posed by these animals and how to avoid them. As you can see in the video, these Forest School students are well aware that snakes are to be avoided (even rubber ones).

3. Tree-swaying

Orangutans are the world’s biggest arboreal animals. They move in the canopy with precision and elegance. Orangutans often use their own weight to bend the trunks of small trees and branches to propel themselves from tree to tree. That does, however, take practice to learn, and that makes it one of the important skills the young orangutans at the rehabilitation centres need to learn.

4. Climbing

The basis of any sound locomotion skillset for orangutans is the ability to climb up and down tall trees with ease. The orphaned orangutans at the rehabilitation centres therefore need regular tree-climbing practice to master this essential survival skill. Several of the caregivers at the centres are trained in tree climbing, and will climb alongside the orphaned orangutans in their care to encourage them to spend more time in the trees.

5. Brachiating

Orangutans can move in many ways. One way is called brachiating – the ability to swing hand over hand from one branch to another.
By being able to move under multiple branches, orangutans can move more freely through the forest. That also means access to more areas and food sources. The orangutans in forest school are copying and learning this practical skill from each other.

6. Fruit eating

While orangutans eat a wide variety of forest foods, their preferred food items are fruits! Dependent on season and location, orangutans can feed on hundreds of different species of wild fruits so it is critical that they can not only identify what fruits are safe to eat, but also how to eat them. Just eating whole, wild figs and guava fruits is pretty straight forward, but some fruits are harder to access. Fruits like durians and coconuts require cracking, peeling, and breaking if you want to access the pulp and seeds inside the hard exterior.
The orangutans in forest school need to learn about a variety of fruits before completing their training. The video shows an example of how they learn to climb up high and get the sweet treat of the day.

7. Bark stripping

It may sound a bit weird that bark stripping is an important skill for orangutans. But of course there is a very good reason for this.
Cambium, a juicy layer beneath the tree’s bark, is an important food source for orangutan during the dry season. In forest school, the caregivers show the orangutans how they can peel back the bark on specific trees, scrape off the soft cambium with their teeth, chew and ingest what is nutritious, spit out the remaining inedible fibres, and then repeat!

8. Invertebrate eating

Orangutans are omnivores, and it is important that they know how to eat a broad range of food from the forest. Invertebrate eating such as termites, ants, and bee larvae form a significant part of the orangutans’ diet. In particular, termites are readily accessible on the forest floor and due to their high protein content, are an important part of any orangutan diet. As you can see in the video, the students in forest school are shown how to break off chunks of rotting wood and then suck out the termites with a quick and sharp inhalation!

9. Pitch extraction

Peeling back the protective exterior of a plant exposes its soft, inner pith. The pith of many types of plants is an important food source for orangutans, with a prime example being the pith of rattan which is an orangutan diet staple. In the forest, rattan is plentiful and available throughout the year, regardless of season. It is crucial that an orangutan knows how to spot edible rattan and peel away its spiky exterior to reveal the soft pith inside.

10. Leaf eating

The time has come for us to wrap up our orangutan survival skills series, and today we take a look at leaf eating. Even though orangutans eat many different types of food, leaves are typically not high on the list of preferred foods. However, they are still an important and plentiful food source; especially young leaf shoots that are more tender and nutritious than their mature counterparts. The orangutans in Forest school learn which leaves are safe to eat and where to find them.

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