Protecting rescued orangutans from COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we run our Jungle School. But creative solutions have allowed our orangutans to continue learning, while staying healthy.
We don’t know if orangutans can contract COVID-19 from humans. But because of their genetic closeness to us, and the fact that other respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis, can transfer from humans to orangutans, we don't want to take any risks. This means we need to be extra careful when working with these animals during the coronavirus pandemic.
To protect the orangutans we have put a few additional safety protocols in place at our Sumatran office. Since the start of the pandemic we have been limiting interactions between staff members, and have restricted our handling of the orangutans to a minimum. Unfortunately, to further ensure the animals don’t get infected, we must keep them in a cage, and as such it is impossible to run normal Jungle School activities. This is a challenge because although humans understand why lockdown is important, it is not possible to explain this concept to primates.
To teach them foraging and nest building skills, we provide the orangutans with food taken from the forest such as: fruits, rattan stem and termites. We also give them leaves and branches to use as bedding material. To make sure they learn how to use each item appropriately trainers provide demonstrations in front of the enclosures.
Although we don’t know what will happen in the next few months regarding the pandemic, I am happy to report that the creative solutions mentioned above are working. The orangutans are completing their assignments well and are forging bonds with one another. Hopefully the animals will soon be able to go back to their normal routine, but until then at least the rescued orangutans taking part in the FZS Jungle School are safe, healthy and progressing on their journey to being released into the wild.
About the Jungle School: The Frankfurt Zoological Society operates a jungle school for orangutans in Bukit Tigapuluh National park in Sumatra. Many of the orangutans participating in the School had been kept illegaly as pets and therefore have never been taught the skills necessary to survive in the wild (for example: how to climb trees, build a nest to sleep in, what to eat and the best way to extract termites from their nests) . Since the inception of the Jungle School 18 years ago, more than 170 individuals have been successfully released, building the foundation of a healthy orangutan population in Bukit Tigapuluh National park. This program is the first scientifically documented resettlement program for orangutans and the most successful of its type.
Rescued orangutans are taught the skills they need to be reintroduced to their rainforest habitat.
Bukit Tigapuluh conservation program
We have grown from an orangutan reintroduction project into a large scale conservation program that includes Sumatran elephant conservation, community development, education and forest protection.
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