Going forward into the New Year is a good time to reflect on where we come from, as well as where we're going. At OFI, we are setting and achieving ever more ambitious goals as we rehabilitate orangutans, research their wild ecology and behaviour, support local communities and increasingly protect orangutan and wildlife habitat by locally purchasing and protecting forest.
But it is also important to remember our beginnings and past, because it lives with us in the present and affects our decisions about the future. Much of our past as an organization can be told through the life histories of orangutan individuals and families.
Camp Leakey is perhaps the best place to observe the living history of our mission to save, cherish and support orangutan lives. Adult female Tutut and her sons are one such living legacy. Tutut (affectionately known as Tut) was brought as an orphan to Camp Leakey in the nineteen seventies, another victim of the orangutan killings practiced by forest loggers. As she got older, Tut began spending more time alone in the forest around Camp Leakey and after a time, became quite independent. However, she always maintained her ties to her 'home' and Dr. Galdikas, who was her surrogate mother. Often, she'd silently appear in Camp Leakey and mingle with her bi-species family there. Eventually Tut had her first offspring, a male infant whom Dr. Galdikas named 'Tom'. While pregnant, Tut displayed some interesting temporary changes in her behaviour; she ate more leaves than normal. She also would build and move nests often.
Tutut on a visit to Camp Leakey.
When Tom was already well into adolescence, Tut gave birth to Terry. Because of their large age gap, by the time Terry was an adolescent, Tom was on his way to becoming the dominant male in Camp. Once, Tom was at a feeding platform, and Terry was approaching the platform, seemingly unaware that Tom was already there. He came up towards the platform and Tom started chasing after him. Terry was taken off-guard, and in his attempt to escape, nearly fell out of the tree. A Camp Leakey ranger who saw the scene said Terry tried to jump away "like a gibbon." Tut's next offspring was Thomas, a frisky young male.
Like many mothers, Tut has had her share of tragedy. When her next infant Tito was sitting on the ground near her at Camp Leakey, but not clinging on to Tutut, one of the large male (always hungry) wild boars, who sometimes come around the camp, ran up to the infant, caught Tito in his mouth and went running off. Tutut ran after the boar screaming, but was not as fast. OFI rangers ran after the wild pig to try to save Tito as well, but did not manage to get him from the boar before the fragile baby was injured too badly to survive. He died in his mother's arms.
Today, Tut's firstborn, Tom, is the dominant male in Camp Leakey and the surrounding study area. He comes and goes as he pleases and enjoys the best of both worlds -- the exclusive access to the high number of rehabilitated females around Camp Leakey, combined with the freedom to roam the national park and forage for unpredictably seasonal and widespread forest fruit. Thomas and Terry are occasional visitors to Camp as well, though Thomas is coming less frequently now because, as he matures, Tom is beginning to view him as a potential rival and display signs of aggression. It's not hard to imagine Tut, who visits Camp Leakey on a regular basis, feeling proud of her strapping sons.
Big Tom, now the dominant male around Camp Leakey.
Several years ago, the gracefully aging matriarch added to her masculine brood. During the rainy season some time back, Tut quietly gave birth to twins in a nest high above the ground in the trees at Camp Leakey. The two infants were immediately named Thor and Tranquility. Sadly, Tranquility did not survive the first day and passed shortly after birth, as is very common in orangutan twins. However, Thor is showing every sign of living up to his boisterous name. He is growing rapidly both in body and spirit, and is exceptionally adventurous for an infant his age. I myself have witnessed Thor's warrior-like behaviour. In May 2012 Thor was already leaving the safety of his mother's body and with wobbly steps, running up to touch the wild boars that walk around Camp Leakey. On other occasions, he has made bold swipes at the fearless long-tailed macaques whose troop roams around Camp. Perhaps Tutut is destined to produce alpha males...
Observing Tutut's family, and those of her wildborn ex-captive peers, thrive and grow is truly a pleasure. The connections that staff, researchers, volunteers and visitors have made with these orangutans over the decades, whether brief or life-long, have built a foundation of commitment to their welfare. Whether directly through rehabilitation, or indirectly through habitat protection and forest acquisition, OFI's shared and long history with orangutans as individuals and as a species motivates us through the challenging times and lends a personal joy to our successes.
Looking forward to 2013 and beyond, we will continue to protect orangutans' welfare and survival with your help and support. Thank you for being a part of our mission and joining us in caring for our extended primate family.