We often talk about Jungle School and how important it is for rescued orangutans. But do you know what orangutans learn, and why? And how do traumatised orangutans like Charlotte respond to this vital part of their day? Well now you can find out! Enjoy a day in the life of Charlotte, a rescued orangutan, whose name means ‘free woman’.
And remember you can gift Charlotte one, two or even nine Jungle School lessons!
I wake up to the sounds of gibbons and the forest. I lie in my hammock on the soft leaves, listening for a little while to the sounds of the rescue centre as the carers and vets arrive. My bunk mates Devi and Bagus are younger than me, and they sometimes make noise in the morning as they play among the hammocks and leaves. My stomach growls as I start to get hungry for breakfast. I hope we’ll have watermelon!
Here's me waking up in my hammock, wondering if it's time for breakfast yet.
I climb down from my hammock and Devi jumps on my back. She can be so annoying, but that’s because she’s still small. But it’s also fun, and I wrestle with her and throw her to the ground. She leaps straight back up again and we play for a while. Bagus is a bit more gentle and timid, maybe because she’s even smaller than Devi. They were both already at the centre when I arrived last year, so I can’t even imagine how little they were when they arrived!
I still remember my first day here, and how my neck hurt from the metal chain that used to imprison me, before I was rescued. It was so hard to move and it hurt every time I tried to get away from the wooden perch I was attached to. Back then, before the kind humans came, I thought the whole world was a wooden perch and a wooden verandah, with only a few trees nearby. Trees that I could never reach.
That was the moment I realised I might be free of that awful chain.
I can hear the carers in the kitchen. They’re washing the fruit and vegetables and cutting it up for breakfast! All the other orangutans in their night-time enclosures are calling out, and I can’t help it, I have to join in too. Breakfast is the best part of the day! I climb up high and grip the bars so I can watch the carers put the food into metal weights. I know they have to make sure they feed us the right amount of healthy, nutritious food so we grow strong. Some of the younger orangutans have slightly different food because they have different nutritional needs, and the little ones still drink milk. The carers tick off the food they’ve prepared on a little chart.
Some of the carers come over to our enclosures with buckets, brushes and hoses. They sweep and wash the floor and get rid of the waste we’ve produced in the night. It’s strange to watch them do this, and they even sometimes take samples of our poo! One of the older orangutans told me they check our faeces to make sure we’re healthy. Humans are such odd creatures. Devi likes to bounce up and down and splash in the water, and the carers laugh and tell her off, but I can tell they don’t really mean it. The carers in another enclosure are carefully watching two young orangutans who have only recently moved from quarantine. One of them is still very slow and seems weak. Poor little guy. I remember feeling nervous and shy at the start too, when I first came to the enclosures. And now I love my little bunk mates!
Here's Devi peekiong out of her hammock at me, probably wondering if it's time to play yet.
It’s time for breakfast! We all screech with excitement and race down to the floor of our enclosures. The carers stop by the clinic first to get gloves, clipboards with notes, walkie talkies, and snacks for us to have in Jungle School. I’m so excited! Today we’re eating cooked sweet potato, cooked corn and oh my gosh… mango! Devi has a really big piece so I grab it off her. She shrieks at me but I hold it high and climb up to the top of the enclosure and slurp it down. Sometimes it’s an advantage being bigger than my bunk mates!
It’s nearly time for Jungle School! I can feel excitement in the air as we wait for the carers to come back so they can carry us to Jungle School. Actually now that I think about it, Jungle School might be the best part of the day… But first, the vets come and check us, chatting to the carers as they hold us in their arms.
The vets listening to my heart and lungs to make sure I'm getting healthier by the day.
The vets say we’re all fine - so we’re off to Jungle School! And wonderful news - Amir is carrying me today! Ever since I arrived, Amir has been my favourite. He was the only one I felt comfortable with at the start. There’s a deep kindness in him that makes me feel so safe. Although I’m bigger than the little babies, I still really like to be held by the carers. The memory of being trapped for so long by a metal chain is still fresh in my mind. So when the carers are kind and gentle, it makes me feel a little bit better every time. One day I hope to forget all about that time, and be fully free in the wild.
Me and Amir! You can see from his eyes just how kind he is.
And here it is! The open forest of Jungle School! No night-time enclosures with bars. No roads or buildings. Just trees, birds up high, insects buzzing, and the cool air of the forest. Amir and all the other carers stop when they reach the denser trees. Amir places me close to a tree, encouraging me to climb. I hesitate - I still do that sometimes and I don’t really know why. He places my hand on the trunk to encourage me to climb up it. The thing is, I know what to do. But sometimes I just don’t want to. I like being held. It feels safe. But if I’m ever going to be truly free, I need to keep practising and show Amir what I’ve learned.
Here I go! Reaching for a branch above my head so I can get higher into the trees.
The funny thing is, as soon as I’m up in the tree, climbing hand over foot over hand, I feel wild and free, like I’m exactly where I belong. I pause and look down at Amir and the other carers on the ground. One of them is still helping Aman to climb. He’s missing three of his fingertips, and he’s always a little slower than the rest of us, but he’s so courageous! Watching him try and try again has helped me to become brave too.
I’ve travelled through the canopy for a while now, and I pause to munch on some figs, liana and cambium inside the twigs. I remember Amir showing me how to strip the bark off with my teeth so I could get to the rich creamy cambium layer underneath. When I first arrived at the centre, they gave me leaves and twigs but I didn’t know what to do with them. I thought they were playthings, so I just sucked the moisture off and let them fall to the ground. I wouldn’t know what to eat without Amir and the others showing me. One day, I’ll need to find all my food on my own.
That's me sucking water off the leaves when I first arrived at the BORA rescue centre. Now, thanks to the carers teaching me, I know exactly how to eat them!
The sun is getting hotter, but here inside the forest it stays much cooler. I long for the day when I can be truly free. I know that because I’m older than many of the others, I might be able to stay outside overnight soon. But I feel scared at that thought, especially if I have to find my own food. I know I’m also a bit clumsy with making nests. Sometimes I forget to break the branches. Sometimes I even forget to make a nest at all. I know that’s one of the ‘big things’ we have to be able to do before we can leave the night-time enclosures. If only I hadn’t spent four years away from the forest and from my mother. I’d be free now, and I’d probably already make the best nests around.
The carers are whistling and kissing the air, calling to us to come down and eat some snacks. I love snacks! Maybe snacks are the best time of the day! Mmm we munch on delicious cool slurpy watermelon. I can see Devi mischievously looking at me - she’s ready for a tumble on the ground. But not me. I still want to eat. Actually, I want a second piece, so I grab her watermelon. She shrieks and the carers give her another piece. I scamper away and eat my two slices in peace. Once I'm finished, I explore a bit further and find a pool of water. It's cool and I love to splash in it.
We’re all a little sleepy after our snack and our morning in the trees. The carers help us get rid of our drowsiness and boredom by playing with us! Actually, maybe this is the best part of the day… They get down on the ground, wrestling with us and rolling around. It’s so much fun! Amir picks me up high and I wrestle with his arms until he gives in and we tumble onto the ground. Then they start to make nests on the ground, which reminds me that I forgot to make one up in the canopy. Whoops. I’m definitely not ready for true freedom just yet. Amir piles up some leaves and branches, pressing them down into a comfy nest. I try to help but I still haven’t quite got the hang of it. I slap the nest and chatter to him and he smiles. I feel a bit snoozy so I lie down for a little bit.
When I wake up, I can hear the other orangutans crunching on something. What are they eating? I want some! I look for Devi to see what she’s got. Oh. My. Gosh. Termites! They give me so much energy. Amir gestures to me and I see he’s digging at some rotten wood at the base of a tree. It’s been a while since we’ve gone termite digging, and I can’t quite remember what to do. He shows me by picking up a stick and poking it into the wood. The wood splits apart a little and termites rush out. I quickly grab a few and pop them in my mouth. Crunch. So good.
I love being up so high! Here I can really taste freedom.
It’s starting to get dark. I scramble up a tree and see that the sky is dark with big black clouds. The carers like to take us inside when that happens, but I really don’t want to go back down to the ground yet. I love the feeling of freedom, sitting here in the branches of a tree, tasting the rain in the air. The tree sways a little and I wonder if I should try and make a nest or forage for some more food. But I can hear Amir whistling and kissing the air, calling my name. Oh, all right. Time to go back. I know the carers don’t like getting wet from the rain. Besides, they have to start preparing our dinner! I love dinner. Maybe that’s the best part of the day?
One last swing through the trees with Devi before we head back to our night-time enclosures!
We arrive at the rescue centre and I feel sleepy and cosy from riding on Amir’s back. He gently places me back into my enclosure and Devi jumps on me, but I push her away and clamber up to my hammock. Amir and the others go back to the kitchen to prepare our food. I smell the tangy sweetness of pineapple as they slice it into it. I hear the metal weights clanking, their voices murmuring, and a family of hornbills honking as they pass over the forest. Later, the carers will bring us fresh leaves for our hammocks for our night’s sleep and some dinner. But for now, I’m having a nap. Maybe naps are the best time of the day…
Thanks for teaching me everything I need to know, Amir. And thanks to all the people all over the world who are helping me go to Jungle School. Life gets a little better every day thanks to you.