As we celebrate International Orangutan Day 2016, Jali (OuTrop Field Assistant) brings us some very exciting news from the Sabangau Forest.
Last month, Cara (OuTrop’s Gibbon and Red Langur Scientist) and I were on the lookout for red langur monkey or gibbon groups to habituate (become accustomed to human observers). We ended up finding the gibbon group ‘Group A’ and we followed the group while they had an interaction with a fellow gibbon family. From far away, I thought I saw the young juvenile orangutan named Gretel. She was crying because she was in the middle this interaction between the two groups. Before returning to camp, I told Cara that I wanted to check if Gretel’s mother, Gracia, was nearby, because we knew that Gracia was pregnant. We had been searching for Gracia since May so we could monitor her condition and check if she had given birth yet, but she continued to elude us. Cara and I began to search for Gracia and came across a nest that appeared to be a recently used orangutan night nest. Once we were directly under the nest and to our surprise, Gracia appeared from inside. Gracia made some kiss squeak vocalisations because we had surprised her, but she soon calmed down. Upon first glance, we could not see a new baby. But after a few minutes, I saw some small legs and arms clinging to Gracia’s stomach and she had the new baby tightly in her arms!
The next day, I followed Gracia, Gretel and the new baby along with Twenti (Orangutan Field Assistant), Joey (Orangutan Research Assistant) and Azis (Orangutan Project Coordinator). We wanted to monitor Gracia and check that mother and baby were doing well. The baby appeared to be about one or two months old, meaning Gracia probably conceived the baby around October or November, directly after the fires last year. The baby looked healthy and Gracia was behaving like she normally would, undisturbed by our presence. We were even able to determine that the baby was in fact a boy! What was also interesting from the follow was that Gracia did not appear bothered by the fact that her older offspring Gretel was still following close by and slept in the night nest with her and the new baby. When orangutans give birth to a new baby, their older offspring is usually forced to make their own night nest and become more independent as the mother shoos them away. Gretel is only six years old, whereas most orangutan mothers give birth when their older offspring is between seven and eight years of age. We will continue to monitor Gracia, Gretel and the new baby to check that everyone is healthy and monitor Gretel’s progression towards independence.
I was so happy to be able to see the new baby, because I have never seen a newborn baby orangutan before. The birth of new life within this forest gives everyone hope for the future and that things will return to somewhat normal conditions after the fires of 2015. I hope there will be no fires this year because after last year we cannot afford to lose any more forest. Hopefully the birth of this new baby is a sign that the forest is thriving again. Stay tuned for more information in the future about Gracia, Gretel and…..the new baby GARA!! Gara is the name of an Indonesian cartoon superhero character, so we all thought this name was fitting as the baby is a superhero in his own right as a symbol of hope for a safer future for the orangutans of Sabangau.