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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Rescued orangutan's first day at baby school shows he has lots to learn about being an orangutan

A baby orangutan at our centre in Borneo is learning how to behave like an ape after spending three years living like a human child. The orangutan, named Boy, was found by workers on a palm oil plantation in West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) in August 2013. One of them, a man called Ewaldus, took him home and built a cage for the little orangutan whose mother is likely to have been killed by plantation workers. Boy spent the next three years inside the house as part of the family who treated him like a child, feeding him on human food and dressing him in a nappy.

Eventually Boy was confiscated by the Forestry Department and delivered to our orangutan centre in Ketapang for care and rehabilitation. Our centre is currently home to more than 100 orangutans that are being prepared for reintroduction into protected areas of forest.

After a thorough health check when he first arrived, Boy spent several weeks in quarantine to ensure he was free from diseases before being introduced to other orangutans at the centre. Then the day came for him to start baby school. Having spent three years living only among human beings, he was overcome with excitement at his first encounter with others of his own kind.

Heribertus Nugraha, who filmed Boy’s first visit to baby school, said: “When he first entered baby school, Boy was very excited and hyperactive. He wanted to play with all the other babies but some of them were frightened because he was so rough and boisterous. Luckily Lisa, who normally spends all her time in the trees, wasn’t scared of him. She came down to meet Boy and played with him.”

IAR's Chief Executive, Alan Knight, said: “Although Boy’s frenetic behaviour looks quite funny, in truth it’s tragic to see this young ape struggling to fit in and find his feet among others of his own kind. After three years living with people, he has no idea how to be an orangutan.

“Had he grown up in the forest with his mother, she would have taught him ‘orangutan etiquette’ and he would have learnt from her the skills he needs to survive in the wild. Now it is up to our team to help Boy adjust to his new environment and learn to live and behave like an orangutan. Once he has settled down he will start watching the other babies and copying their behaviour.”

Every single orangutan rescued and undergoing rehabilitation at our centre has suffered some form of physical or psychological damage from its time in captivity. In January we released footage of Joss, a baby orangutan who was so traumatised that she kept throwing herself on the floor and banging her head against the wall. She is now progressing well at the centre, however, and subsequent clips show her feeding, climbing and interacting with the other orangutans.