It is with great sadness that we share the devastating news that Wigly has passed away on the BOS Foundation’s Kaja pre-release island.
Handsome Wigly living on Kaja Island
Wigly's death has come as a huge shock to everyone as he was in excellent health and flourishing on Kaja Island. Upon receiving this terrible news, we found some comfort in looking back on Wigly’s journey. We wanted to share his story with you as a way to remember him.
Wigly joined our adoption family in 2012 as an adorable fuzzy two-year-old, weighing in at 12.3kg. He was initially taken in by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) orangutan rescue and rehabilitation centre in Central Kalimantan as a tiny baby. When he joined our adoption family, he had recently joined the baby Jungle School Group. At first, he was quite nervous. He would stay close to his human babysitters and would watch the other orangutans play from afar. After a few days, Wigly began to grow in confidence, and he was encouraged to join in the fun by other young orangutans. Wigly’s best friend was Ben, and they would play and cuddle together. They would hold hands on the way home from Jungle School and if Ben left him, Wigly would cry.
Wigly and Ben were the best of friends when they were little
Wigly grew to love Jungle School and quickly learned many new things. He watched and learned with his peers and from some older orangutans who frequently visited Wigly’s group. Wigly especially loved discovering all the natural forest fruits he could eat and he really enjoyed playing in water. By 2013, Wigly generally no longer liked his human babysitters and would bite them. He much preferred his orangutan friends, which was wonderful. He became very good at climbing tall trees, although he couldn’t build his own nest yet. Wigly loved to pick and collect leaves, but he would often just hold the leaves in his mouth and not eat them, as this beautiful photo shows.
Cheeky Wigly posing at Jungle School and holding a leaf in his mouth
By March 2015, Wigly weighed 20.8 kilograms and continued to flourish at Jungle School. He was a very active orangutan and was skilful at climbing trees and swinging using branches or roots. Wigly was brave and adventurous, often choosing to play with orangutans from an older group. Wigly and Ben remained close friends and would often travel quite deep into the forest together to search for their favourite foods of termites and tree sap. Wigly also began learning how to build nests in the canopy. Wigly loved to wrestle with his orangutan friends on the playground grass and played tug of war with twigs and sacks. He could be quite mischievous and rebellious with his human babysitters by refusing to return to his night enclosure after Jungle School. The babysitters would need milk to coax him back home.
In 2016 Wigly was promoted to Group 4 of Jungle School. He embraced the new environment and made new friends. Staff were worried that Wigly would miss his very close companion Ben; however, Wigly coped very well with the separation. Wigly’s nest building skills improved, although he still didn’t seem to like to rest in them, so it seemed they needed some fine tuning in the comfort department. Wigly had an excellent appetite and continued to grow and become bulkier. At Jungle School, Wigly loved to eat rattan shoots and bananas. He continued to develop his foraging skills and find termites, which are an excellent source of protein for wild orangutans.
Wigly moved up to Jungle School Group 5 in early 2017 and continued to develop his forest survival skills including exploring deep into the forest with his orangutan friends. After Jungle School, Wigly would make a beeline for the feeding platform and refused to return to his night enclosure. Babysitters, assisted by technicians, would have to chase him down daily and persuade him to return to the enclosure to sleep. Wigly’s favourite fruits were watermelon and rambutan. He would sometimes steal fruit from the babysitters’ bags, then quickly race up a tree to eat his stash.
Wigly continued to develop his forest skills and loved playing with water
As Wigly continued to grow and flourish as he headed towards adolescence, he became too strong and unmanageable to be taken out to Jungle School with the younger orangutans. Therefore, in June 2017, Wigly was moved into a socialisation enclosure. Wigly had to adapt to living in a more confined space. The keepers provided Wigly and all the orangutans in enclosures with numerous feeds during the day, as well as enrichment and foliage. Wigly loved feed time and the enrichment provided. Due to Wigly’s previous great progress at Jungle School and his age, he was placed on the waiting list to be relocated to a pre-release island in 2018.
Wigly was moved to Bangamat Island in March 2019. This is a forested island where orangutans can develop their forest survival skills before they are released into the jungle. After a thorough health check, Wigly was given the all clear to be transported down the river to the islands. Brave boy Wigly was calm during the transfer, holding all his excitement for when he arrived at the island. BOSF staff remember fondly that as soon as they opened the transport cage door, Wigly burst out in a ball of enthusiasm and climbed straight up the nearest tree to survey his surroundings.
Human interaction decreases significantly during this last vital stage of rehabilitation, with orangutans only interacting with their human carers when additional food is supplied twice a day via the feeding platform.
In August 2019, Wigly and other orangutans had to be moved back to enclosures for a period of time when the water levels around some of the pre-release islands became low. This provided an escape opportunity for the orangutans – especially adventurous souls like Wigly. Once the dry season was over and the water levels had returned to normal, Wigly was released onto Kaja Island with his new best friend Ello. Kaja Island was deemed safer than Bangamat Island. It didn’t take long for Wigly to adapt to his new surroundings.
When Wigly heard a boat approaching the island, he would climb up a high tree to check if technicians were coming to distribute fruits and vegetables. He would visit the feeding platform to grab some food in a rush and take it into the canopy to enjoy before continuing with his explorations of the island. Over the next few years, Wigly grew into a stunningly handsome sub-adult male. He became bolder and began to confidently climb and build his nests high up in the trees. After a one-hour rest during the heat of the day, Wigly would continue his journey across the island, snacking on termites and young leaves along the way. Wigly established good relationships with other orangutans on Kaja Island, although sometimes he would fight and wrestle with his peers over fruit.
By 2021, Wigly had become a dominant orangutan on Kaja Island who preferred to be alone. However, the orangutan monitoring team did observe Wigly exploring the island with his best friend, Ello, on several occasions, albeit for a short time. The two would sometimes meet at the same feeding platform, then journey together for a while in the forest. In early 2022, the Rungan River rose significantly due to heavy rains, and the islands became flooded. Wigly had to survive in the trees, and his range became more limited as he no longer had the option of traveling on the ground. Wigly survived this challenge well.
While Wigly still depended on the food provided by the BOSF staff, he was very good at foraging for forest foods. He was observed savouring forest fruits, young leaves, and tree bark on the island. The rainy season sprouts many natural food sources on the island, including young leaves, which were Wigly’s favourite! Wigly developed a beautiful, thick, and shiny coat of hair, indicating his optimal health.
Wigly was last observed feeding on Platform #1 of Kaja Island by technicians Karnedianto and Frans. He appeared to be in good physical condition and very active as usual. Wigly was rarely seen with other orangutans and was remaining in the canopy due to high water levels flooding the ground of the island. The technicians did not see Wigly for the next two days. This was unusual so they began to search the island for him. Several days of searching were disrupted by aggressive orangutans, Samir, Spongebob, and Kasongan, pursuing the team. On the ninth day of searching, tragically they found Wigly’s body in the evening, 20m from the riverbank. Due to the late hour and lack of light, the team was unable to remove his body immediately but did so the following morning for necropsy.
Due to the state of Wigly’s body, we may never be able to confirm the cause of death. Currently, the vets have made a shortlist of probable causes including a bacterial infection, cardiovascular virus, physical trauma due to falling, ingestion of poisonous materials, or a bite from a venomous animal. There was no environmental evidence in the area for any of the listed possible causes of death and, due to the state of decay, the samples taken during the necropsy may be inconclusive. However, the best samples the vets could collect have been sent for analysis.
Stories like Wigly’s death are heart-breaking. Wigly was loved by the BOSF team and while they all know that life on the pre-release islands has its dangers, just like life in the forest, they did not have any reason to believe Wigly could not make it. I was thrilled to see Wigly living a good life of freedom on Bangamat Island when I visited Central Kalimantan in 2019. It hurts knowing he is no longer with us and I know you will feel his loss deeply too.
Wigly’s updates over the years have brought us such joy as he grew up before our eyes and developed his jungle skills. His cheeky and adventurous antics made everyone smile and he will be greatly missed by his dedicated carers at BOSF, the team at The Orangutan Project, and you, his loyal adopters. I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank you for helping care for Wigly over the years and helping him on his journey to forest freedom. Wigly’s story highlights how hard the rehabilitation journey can be and sadly we do not always have the happy ending that we long for. However, we will never give up in trying to give every orangutan in our care the chance to live in the jungle where they belong.
Nest in peace Wigly, you will always hold a place in our hearts.