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Deforestation leaves dozens of baby orangutans orphaned each year. She built a school to raise them just like their mothers would

Deforestation leaves dozens of baby orangutans orphaned each year. She built a school to raise them just like their mothers would
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]


On the island of Borneo, eight young orangutans are the first students in a 247-acre forest school, where orphaned apes learn the skills they need to live independently in the wild. Primatologist Signe Preuschoft, working with the international nonprofit Four Paws and local organization Jejak Pulang, designed the school to replicate the lives that the animals would have led if their mothers had survived to raise them. “We ‘orangutanize’ the human caregiver,” says Preuschoft, teaching workers to do such things as climb trees and recognize forest fruits. The baby apes sleep in leaf-filled baskets attached to branches, and the school is working on a tree-house design similar to treetop nests they would otherwise inhabit. A suspension bridge between trees ferries caretakers to the preserve and accustoms the apes to staying high above the ground. The school, which opened in 2018 and is now looking for a place to graduate its oldest student into nature, plans to work with up to 30 orangutans at a time. As humans encroach on the endangered animals’ habitat, mothers are more likely to be killed, and infants can’t survive on their own. “Everything is against them,” Preuschoft says. “They need to have some people on their side.”

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