Orangutan Behavior during the Rehabilitation Process

By Kristin Abt


Orangutan at Sepilok (Photo: Kristin Abt)

A recent article “Fostering Appropriate Behavior in Rehabilitant Orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)” published online in the International Journal of Primatology discusses research on the behavior of rehabilitant orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus and P. abelii) at the Orangutan Care and Quarantine Centre in Pangkalan Bun, Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Much past research has focused on postrelease behavior of rehabilitated orangutans and on the behavior of wild individuals; therefore, this research is especially timely and useful for the number of centers currently attempting to rehabilitate the ever-increasing number of displaced great apes and other fauna (Descovich et al., 2011).


Curious Orangutan in Sabah, Malaysia (Photo: Kristin Abt)

Orangutans (n=40) in this study included males and females, mass classes ranging from 5 to 25 kg, and good, moderate, and poor health distinctions. Individuals were observed continuously for a period of 5 hours during 3 separate forest excursions each.  A number of behaviors relevant to postrelease success in the forest habitat were recorded (type of locomotion, social behavior, such as play, human caretaker interaction, point of height in tree or on ground, feeding and food choice, grooming, etc.).

Results from this study showed that rehabilitant individuals’ masses were associated with the amount of time spent at the centre. Authors note this finding as a result of the early age of admittance to the centre for most individuals. Further, orangutans in better health spent an increased amount of time consuming food and less time resting than other categories. In terms of locomotion (>30% of overall time), quadrupedal movement in trees was the dominant method (again, with orangutans in better health doing so more often). Individuals who had been at the Care Centre longer spent more time on the ground rather than swinging or other locomotion. As the day in which focal individuals were observed continued, human interaction increased.

Orangutans at Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre (Photo by Kristin Abt)

As rehabilitation of orphaned individuals is a component of the long-term species survival of orangutans, research regarding the behavior of these individuals is important for increasing the chance of postrelease survival and success. Additionally, as their habitat is lost as a result of a number of conservation threats, land protection is necessary to provide habitat in which the released individuals and their wild conspecifics can live.


Descovich, K. A., Galdikas, B. M., Tribe, A., Lisle, A., & Phillips, C. J. 2011. Fostering appropriate behavior in rehabilitant orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). International Journal of Primatology. doi:10.1007/s10764-011-9491-1

Orangutan Foundation International (a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization) supports the work of the Orangutan Care and Quarantine Centre and other crucial efforts to promote orangutan conservation, including land protection, research, and education. Visit www.orangutan.org to donate directly to OFI. If you would like to donate items specifically to enhance the lives of individuals at the Care Centre, visit this wishlist to select items that orangutans, such as those in this study, will greatly benefit from. If you would like to learn more, look for the upcoming IMAX© movie Born to Be Wild to be released in theaters April 8, 2011.

2 thoughts on “Orangutan Behavior during the Rehabilitation Process

  1. Orangutans are incredible animals. I was on a trip on Borneo when I had the opportunity to visit them at the Orangutan Sanctuary in Semenggoh, near Kuching. I hope that they can be saved.

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