This year I was invited to Borneo to learn about the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, and to help to spread awareness of the plight of this species. Over the course of a week, BOS Foundation opened their doors, and their hearts, to me and allowed me to delve deep into their work. The beautiful and the devastating.

I started my visit in Balikpapan at Samboja Lodge. This ecolodge is owned by the Foundation so any guests visiting are inadvertently contributing funds to the program.

As a tourist at Samboja you will have the opportunity to learn about the Foundation and the work that they do. You’ll also be allowed to visit the pre- release islands and the sun bear enclosure. Although this is only scratching the surface of the work being done, what you will learn and see will go far in spreading awareness of this critically endangered species.

Lady the Sunbear 🌞🐻

A cruise on the “Black River” is a must do in Samboja too!

However, I had done my one week quarantine in Indonesia and completed thorough health screens back in Australia. I was ready to go beyond the tourist experience ...

I was ready for FOREST SCHOOL!

The majority of orangutans that are in the care of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation have been displaced from their homes due to deforestation. Coal mining and palm oil plantations are particularly destructive to natural habitats. Adding to the human/ wildlife conflict is an unexpected side problem; the illegal pet trade. Orangutans are displaced from their homes by deforestation and driven into nearby villages. Often starving, the adults will raid houses and do what they can to survive, which usually results in their death. When an adult female orangutan is killed, her baby is usually confiscated by the humans responsible and sold into the illegal pet trade. Over time orangutan pets have become so popular, and such a status symbol, that orangutans are further poached to support this industry. With very few places to go and a huge demand for babies, the crisis has escalated and orangutans are now critically endangered.

Orphaned baby orangutans that go into the illegal pet trade are often reported to the authorities and BOS Foundation works alongside the police and the government to stage rescues. Once in care, and after quarantine, these babies enter forest school to learn how to Orangutan again. Split between two facilities (Samboja and Nyaru Menteng), the babies learn from their peers and dedicated babysitters.

Animals that show promising signs of wild orangutan behavior after graduating forest school will be flagged for eventual release. The first step for release is a health check and the socialization cages.

This is Choki and she has just been tranquilized for her health check and her big move to the socialization cages. The next step will be a pre release island and eventually release!

Choki resisted the effects of the drugs hard but was eventually sedated enough to be transported to the clinic for all of her mandatory health checks. After these were complete she was moved to the socialization cages where she will be placed with different orangutans until a group of friends emerges. This group will stay together for pre release and eventually release. Usually the group consists of one male and several females.

There are pre release islands at both facilities. At Samboja the islands are small and man-made, allowing just a few orangutans to live there at a time. In Nyaru Menteng the islands are natural and much bigger. More animals can share this space. All orangutans on pre release islands are monitored and watched for signs that they can survive in the wild. They need to demonstrate that they can build nests, have a healthy fear of humans and can find their own food. 🍌

A handful of the orangutans on the pre release islands in Samboja are animals that are in life long sanctuary. This means that they will never again have the chance to be wild. Often these animals have been kept as pets for too long, or they’re traumatized or sick and they won’t survive in the wild. When the resources are there the team at BOS Foundation allow them space to love out their lives.

But not every animal is that lucky. Some are still in the long term cages where they will live out their days in a cell. Often they are here as they have contracted human diseases and the team can’t risk them infecting the rest of the population. Sometimes it comes down to resources, there simply isn’t enough islands for the amount of animals here. Whatever the case, it’s clear that much can be done to improve the facilities for these animals. But this takes money, and so much money is already being spent on the many other aspects of the program.

My heart breaks for these guys 💔

But SO MUCH good is being done and we can help!

If you want to help there’s lots you can do, even if you can’t afford to give!

1. You can follow BOS Foundation on Instagram and help to spread awareness!

2. You can read about my experiences on Instagram and engage with my posts and stories to help that content spread!

3. You can adopt a baby orangutan or donate to the Foundation to help them do this important work!