Nicki Reviews Her Experience At The Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary!

Nicki Reviews Her Experience At The Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary!

Posted by Nicki Smith on 22nd Aug 2019

(The following was written by Nicki Smith, a volunteer who recently returned from a 2-week stay at the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Sanctuary).

All my life I’ve loved orangutans (don’t actually know why, never met one until recently!) and dreamed of seeing them in their natural habitat. So, how does your 57-year-old Scouser from Liverpool (as you can appreciate I’ve had this dream for a while now) get to live that dream? She goes to Nyaru Menteng – where the dream was delivered... and then some. If you’ll permit me to share it.

Orangutan Islands


Our first four days were in quarantine which was a bittersweet pill to have to swallow initially, as I could hear the ‘orangies’ in the facility but we couldn’t see them yet, it was torture almost (ok I know I’m dramatic!) but I thought, "be patient Nicki, patient". However, this was eased greatly by my friend Lindsay and the fab group we were with and the mega Chloe, our co-ordinator and Andri her colleague, they were brilliant in managing the whole of our stay there and they were ‘dead good’ fun too. So..., back to quarantine period. The first morning we went out on a river cruise to see the orangutan islands and OMG when they appeared out of the trees and bushes, I was almost hyperventilating with excitement! My breathing now under control, we spent a good while watching the ‘orangies’ and one came down to cool off in the water, using a piece of coconut shell to gather and pour water over its head – it was magical to see. The river was very low at this point, everywhere waiting for the rainy season.

Collecting Nesting Materials

During the next few days, we were all involved in enrichment activities and I was able to develop some very useful (and potentially ‘transferable’) skills! Sawing bamboo (with a manual saw, I might add!), heading off to the forest, machete in hand to cut down nesting materials and palm fronds for enrichment, all good stuff to go on my CV! Seriously though, it was hard work, and I think you have to be prepared for that because it is hot and humid but, what outweighs that, is that it’s great fun too, we all had a great laugh and the group banter was really entertaining. It was very interesting too, creating materials to keep the ‘orangies’ occupied - smearing (sounds slightly grubby but hey ho!) porridge inside the bamboo pieces then sticking nuts and seeds, fruits to it – plaiting palm fronds and inserting nuts etc for the 'orangies' to find – later after quarantine we were allowed in the facilities where we were able to give these to them and it was fab to see them with something we had made.

End of the quarantine period, hurrah, yippee! Wellies and face mask in situ, and off we go to the enclosures. Again, involved in washing/prepping enrichment sacks and into the fruit store where the famous Big Boy Beni escaped to on the TV show in pursuit of bananas... wow, I’m where Big Boy Beni has been? Oh, I feel I almost know him, me and Beni, almost ‘bezzy mates’ (I know..? Indulge me).

Building An Orangutan Playground

Continued on Monday making enrichment boxes for the 'orangies' then mixing and laying cement? Yes, me! Blimey, it was hard work, no cement mixer here, we had to do it with spades and hoes – hey, who would have thought it, ‘Nicki the Brickie’!! As a group project, we were tasked with constructing a Jungle Gym for ‘after school activities’ for the young 'orangies' returning from Jungle School. Blood, sweat and tears (when we saw them using it) went into building it – we dug, sawed, nailed every piece of wood and rubber – my friend Lindsay and I becoming very adept at sawing the slats for the slide – but everyone worked their ‘bums’ off. What we do for these 'orangies' eh? But everything comes to s/he who waits, and I got my reward – the ‘kids’ arrived home from school out of the forest... I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. My sunglasses misted up, snot and tears everywhere (I know, too much information, don’t care!). They were engrossed in it, inspecting everything, swinging on the swings, playing in the sandpit, it was an absolute joy to watch and I know it sounds strange but also a relief that they seemed to like it as much as we’d hoped. Big Beni did some quality monitoring, testing the robustness with his generous frame! I understand and totally agree with the reasons for the ‘no contact’ policy but it didn’t stop me being so envious of the babysitters who in their contact were like mothers, playful, guiding and tender. I could have watched forever.

Orangutans After School

A particularly moving moment for me was when we met the ‘Big Boys’ or ‘Unreleasables’ who are cared for on a daily basis. As it was explained, unreleasable into the wild because they haven’t got the skills, for a variety of reasons and are now too old to develop the skills need to survive. I met Hercules, a huge male, so handsome (tampan, in Indonesian!), majestic and dignified – the colour of his orange hair was beautiful in the sun. But, when he looked at me it was almost as though he looked into my soul – it was disarming and I was glad I had my sunglasses to put on and hide behind, so no one knew I was crying. However, as with everything to do with this fab project there is an upside. An island has been purchased where the Big Boys will be released, probably within the next 2 years with full support as in provision of food and monitoring for the rest of their lives. So, Hercules, ‘tampan’, everything comes to he who waits.

And so, if you have borne with me thus far. You will be mightily fed and watered in the lodge by the marvellous Mama Mona. And, I was very impressed by the passion and commitment shown by all the staff at the sanctuary in their efforts to help these animals. We were very lucky to witness during our stay, the starting point at the sanctuary of two releases and be involved in a very moving ceremony where we joined in the shout ‘Orangutan Freedom’ before the jeeps left to start their long journey, ‘loadsa snot and tears’ again.

Nyaru Menteng Group

I hope that my feeble efforts in some small way have contributed to the ‘orangies’ at Nyaru Menteng, as a thank you for giving me the happiest time of my life... And finally, young and old, just come here and do it. I waited a long time for this and it was worth the wait.

PS: Another good reason to come here – think you are having a bad hair day? And I had many here! The ‘orangies’ looked at me and me at them and we both thought... I don’t look that bad after all! xx


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