The next chapter of my life includes rainforests and orangutans.
I am excited that I will be able to visit the centers that help rehabilitate ex-captive orangutans to free forest life.
Did you know that some of these orangutans became bicultural, comfortable with both human and orangutan worlds. It turned out that these ex-captives can do a multitude of prodigiously intelligent things. They can take canoes for rides down the river. Orangutans were also taught to made fires, washed laundry, unlocked doors with keys, weeded paths, untied the most complex knots humans could make, hung hammocks up and played in them, cooked pancakes and brushed their teeth. These feats are impressive in and of themselves. I am not saying I agree to making animals learn tricks, I am just saying this is more than some children learn to master in a timely fashion.
Orangutan minds also show qualities not found elsewhere —exceptional reflectiveness, mechanical genius, and unexpected socially astuteness for a species known for solitude. That makes orangutans even more like us than we believed, and even more important to our understanding of human nature.
Captured orangutans have psychological scars that are as serious as physical ones, if often less obvious. Perhaps the worst psychological problems affect the infants. You could see why people wanted them — they are among the most charming creatures imaginable, little balls of cuddly, orange fluff. But the only way to get an orangutan infant is to kill its mother, then take the baby off her dead or dying body. So all captive infants are orphans.
For orangutans, that alone is tragic because like humans, their mother is the center of their world for many years. It is mother that provides protection, nourishment, comfort, play, knowledge, and guidance. Mother cannot be replaced, scars from captivity cannot be erased, and years lost to imprisonment cannot be relived. At best, we can help orangutans compensate for the losses. Even that takes years of intensive support.
Orangutans may be lightning learners compared to other species, but it still takes them years to acquire the expertise to survive in the forest — after their health, emotional, and motivational problems have been solved.
Yesterday as I re-tried my Bahasa Indonesia skills (the official language of Indonesia sort of like Malay) I found I was comfortable in a language where I know about 500 words and I have not been using them in the last ten years.
Slowly my brain started to reconnect some of the sounds to words. I was able to understand the language spoken by my husband’s co-workers. As an expat, I am not searching for something to compensate me for my losses. I am ready to re-connect with my years lost – being away from Indonesia. This does not mean I didn’t love my time in Nigeria or Thailand, it just means I am once again back to an area that will seem more comfortable, allow more play and I have more knowledge of… Moving On!
Trying to find the contact for the original resources on this article, I will post it as soon as I can locate it from our moving boxes.