International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 616–633 | Cite as

Fostering Appropriate Behavior in Rehabilitant Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)

  • Kristin A. DescovichEmail author
  • Birute M. Galdikas
  • Andrew Tribe
  • Allan Lisle
  • Clive J. Phillips


Rehabilitation centers in Indonesia and Malaysia accommodate displaced orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus and P. abelii) and aim to facilitate their release into the wild by developing in them the skills that are necessary for survival. Regular forest excursions are provided but their efficacy in improving learning of appropriate behaviors is unknown. We observed 40 rehabilitating orangutans from the Orangutan Care and Quarantine Centre during 3 forest excursions each to determine whether their behavior fostered the development of survival skills. In total, 38% of their time was spent in locomotion, particularly quadrupedal arboreal travel (13%), walking (8%), climbing (7%), and vine−swinging (4%). 26.5% of their time was spent ≥ 5 m from the ground, at heights up to 25 m. Arboreal activities were more common early in the excursions and interaction with caregivers more common later (h 1: 0.3% of time; h 5: 0.9% of time). Individuals of lower body mass were significantly more likely to engage in arboreal movement, locomotion in general, eating of bark and leaves, and social play, and less likely to eat insects. Those that had been at the Centre the longest were less likely to perform arboreal activities and significantly more likely to be found standing and at ground level than those that had been there for a shorter time. During this study, many forest food items were consumed, particularly leaves and fruit, but also invertebrates and bark. Little time was spent in sexual behavior, tool use, nest building, or socially mediated learning, but social play occupied almost 6% of their time. We conclude that regular excursions into the forest are likely to assist in the development of locomotion and feeding skills for survival in rehabilitating orangutans, but special attention is needed to encourage nest building, social activities, and arboreal activity. Heavy individuals and those that have been captive for a long time are least likely to benefit.


Behavior Juvenile Orangutan Pongo Rehabilitation 



We thank the Australian Orangutan Project and the Orangutan Foundation International, Orangutan Care and Quarantine Centre in Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan for financial and in-kind support of the project. In addition, the Indonesian Forestry Department, LIPI, Indonesian Police, Herry Roustaman, and Professor Hadi Alikodra from Institut Pertanian Bogor provided permit and visa support. Assistant Nelly Oktorina, Leif Cocks (Australian Orangutan Project), Professor Colin Groves (Australian National University), Stephen Brend (Orangutan Foundation UK), Ibu Waliyati (Orangutan Foundation Indonesia), and Yeti and the team at the OCQC provided professional support. The editor-in-chief, Dr. Joanna Setchell, and reviewers from the International Journal of Primatology provided valuable advice on the writing of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristin A. Descovich
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Birute M. Galdikas
    • 4
    • 5
  • Andrew Tribe
    • 1
    • 3
  • Allan Lisle
    • 6
  • Clive J. Phillips
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Animal StudiesUniversity of QueenslandGattonAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Orangutan ProjectSouth PerthWestern Australia
  3. 3.Centre for Animal Welfare and EthicsUniversity of QueenslandGattonAustralia
  4. 4.Orangutan Foundation InternationalPangkalan BunIndonesia
  5. 5.Department of ArchaeologySimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  6. 6.School of Land, Crop and Food SciencesUniversity of QueenslandGattonAustralia

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