Born to be Wild 3D – Baby Orangutans!!

Born to be Wild 3d is an amazingly cute IMAX film about how two exceptional people (with the help of their teams) rescue orphaned baby elephants and orangutans and raise them. They help the animals overcome their loss and prepare them to one day be re-released into the wild. Today’s blog post is about Dr. Biruté Mary Galdikas, and the orphaned orangutans she raises at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine in Borneo.

Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine (OCCQ)

Orangutan means person of the forest in the Malay language. “They are one of our closet living relatives in the animal kingdom,” Dr. Galdikas states. “They share 97% of our genetic material, are benign beings and very intelligent.” They live exclusively in the tropical rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, and are the only great ape living in Asia.

The OCCQ employs over 130 local staff who care for over 300 orangutan orphans, with the intention that all will ultimately be released into the wild. The facilities include an operating and X-ray room, medical laboratory, library, living quarters, as well as a separate quarantine complex.

The orphan orangutans living at the OCCQ are separated into age groups. The youngest ones are infants who live in the center’s nursery. These orphans require constant attention and coddling. A baby orangutan will physically not leave its mother’s body for the first year of life. So the human caretakers are tasked with caring for infants even more demanding than human babies.

In the wild, orangutans will naturally leave their mothers around eight years old, so that is the typical age when OFI’s orangutans are released back into the jungle. At a younger age, they’re still immature and small enough to become prey to clouded leopards. But once they’re older, as their natural instincts kick in, additional time spent under human care can impede their ability to thrive in the wild.

The relationship between the caretakers and the orangutans is significant. The young ones are so fragile during their formative years that the humans who commit to caring for them become, in fact, surrogate mothers. “If you put a baby orangutan on the ground it will not stop screaming,” Dr. Galdikas details. “They are literally pulled off their dead mother’s body when they are captured. They know no other place than in her arms or on her back.”

In a peat swamp forest near the OCCQ the orangutan orphans enjoy a kind of supervised release, learning invaluable nest-building skills as well as foraging techniques. Small wooden facilities allow the orangutans and their caregivers to sleep in the forest at night. The halfway house this forest represents to the orphans is of dire importance in their journey back to surviving in the wild. When the orangutans reach the age of eight years, they are usually ready to be released into the wild.

Several scenes in the film Born to be Wild were shot at the OCCQ and in the surrounding jungle, including interaction with Tom, the dominant male orangutan now living in the area outside the camp. Tom is a totally wild orangutan, but Dr. Galdikas has known him ever since he was born. Thirty-five years ago, she helped raise his mother, Tut, who was one of the original rehabilitated orangutans released at OCCQ in the 1970s.

“We spent a lot of time with the larger orangutans that have been rehabilitated by Biruté,” comments Drew Fellman, producer of the film. “They might be 30 years old, having lived wild now for over 20 years, but they’ll come back to Camp Leakey to visit. They might just come up and sit down next to you, or as you hike through the forest, one will take your hand and walk with you awhile. Many of those that Biruté raised now have offspring who are completely wild, and don’t interact with humans at all, which is a great thing. That’s the whole point of her project. Sometimes the first generation that returns to the wild is transitional and still leans on humans for support, but success is about the future generations.”

Can’t see the video?Click here.

If you missed our blog on orphaned elephants and their upbringing at the Nairobi Elephant Nursery, you can read it by clicking here. Make sure to check out Born to be Wild in 3D, now showing in IMAX

Born to be Wild – in IMAX 3D

Born to be Wild 3d is an amazingly cute IMAX film about how two exceptional people (with the help of their teams) rescue orphaned baby elephants and orangutans and raise them. They help the animals overcome their loss and prepare them to one day be re-released into the wild. Today’s blog post is about Dame Daphne, and the Nairobi Elephant Nursery she started in order to take care of orphaned elephants.

Nairobi Elephant Nursery

Since its inception, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (TDSWT) has hand-reared more than 130 orphaned elephants. Dame Daphne has trained over 50 keepers to rescue and rehabilitate the elephants, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild population of Tsavo’s National Park.

From the moment they arrive, the orphans are very fragile, both physically and emotionally. Dame Daphne explains, “When a new elephant comes to the nursery, they are terrified and more often than not emaciated. They’ve not only lost their mothers but their entire family. We’ve also had to capture them and transport them on a plane so they’re completely traumatized. Once they get to the nursery, the most urgent task is to check their state of health and, to do that, we must first calm them down and begin to instill a sense of trust. Most of all, they have to want to survive.”

Perhaps most crucial to that survival is nourishment. They need milk. After years of trial and error, Dame Daphne developed a mixture to act as a replacement for an elephant mother’s milk. She details, “At first we couldn’t get the formula right as elephants cannot process cow milk, so we got samples of elephant milk analyzed and discovered it was very high in fat. But it couldn’t be just any sort of fat. We kept trying different variations until we found a type of human baby formula that seemed to be working and continued adding other ingredients, like coconut milk, and finally got it right. We also found that some orphans like to drink their milk from under a blanket. The rough fabric reminds them of their mother’s body, it feels natural to have somewhere to rest their trunks while they suckle, so that helps to soothe them.”

Elephants are also extremely social, so having other elephants nearby helps to quiet the new orphans, like Sities, who is featured in the film.

In this respect, the caregivers are also an integral part of the equation. The staff, which comes from different tribes and different backgrounds, have found a common purpose working together to save elephants. The keepers not only spend their days with their charges; they tuck the elephants in at night and sleep beside them in their stalls. David Lickley, director of Born to Be Wild 3D, affirms, “When you watch the keepers with the elephants, you instantly see the intense emotional impact they have on each another.” Because the elephants and their human caregivers must eventually part ways, the keepers are rotated among TDSWT’s three orphan facilities so the elephants don’t become too attached to any one man, as this would create problems should he ever be absent.

A big part of the elephants’ recovery regimen includes enrichment activities like wrestling and mud baths.

Lickley says, “They love to playfully bump up against you and they like games, too. We were able to film this crazy soccer game, with three balls bouncing around, elephants trumpeting, people hooting and hollering, and dust flying up. There are obviously no rules, but everyone was having a great time.”

Can’t see the video?Click here.

Make sure to check back next month to learn about the Camp Leakey Research Station, where Dr. Galdikas raises orphaned orangutans in Borneo. You can purchase your tickets online by clicking here.

Born To Be Wild 3D – Opens in Two Weeks!

I am extra excited about our upcoming IMAX film Born To Be Wild 3D - opening a week from Friday!

It’s 45 minutes of baby elephants and teeny tiny orangutans, narrated by Morgan Freeman. It’s going to be like having a baritone comfort blanket wrapped around animal eye candy – and it’s inspiring to boot:

The film “documents orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them—saving endangered species one life at a time.”

What’s not to love?

While you’re anxiously awaiting the release date, the makers of the film have released several fascinating behind-the-scenes webisodes from the production of the film. This one is from Camp Leakey, “a legendary place…Camp Leakey has this reputation as one of the foundations of biology.”

Take a tour of the camp with Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas, who established the wild orangutan research camp and rehabilitation center at Camp Leakey 40 years ago.

Can’t see the video? Click here to view online.

These are some amazing, dedicated people doing fascinating work. Get more behind-the-scenes goodness in the other pre-release webisodes!

Behind-The-Scenes Webisodes!
Click to watch: Borneo | Coming Home to Tsavo | Camp Leakey