Video Supplement to Operants Magazine

From Ex Situ to In Situ Conservation: Using Behavioral Technology to
Improve the Rehabilitation and Release of Orangutans in Borneo

By Barbara Heidenreich

Abstract: Releasing displaced or rehabilitated orangutans back into the wild is the primary goal of most orangutan conservation projects. However, unsustainable palm oil farming has led to hundreds of animals living in sanctuary situations in Indonesia. Some of these animals can be released with proper medical care. Others can experience improved welfare if they can learn to cooperate in day-to-day behavioral and medical care. In 2017 - 2019, a team of animal behavior technicians visited two sites in Borneo to introduce staff members and approximately 650 resident Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) to the benefits of behavioral technology There were many naïve animals to train, which also meant the opportunity for tremendous transformation. Challenges to overcome included addressing animals showing fear responses or aggressive behavior, working with limited resources, tackling safety issues, and time constraints to produce results. Despite the challenges, this collaboration between behavior technicians and orangutan specialists in Borneo is making an inspiring impact on the welfare and conservation of one of the rarest species on the planet.

The following video is an example of the work conducted by the author and staff members from Oregon Zoo with the young orphaned orangutans in Forest School and their babysitters. Video courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

In this video Scott Jackson from the Oregon Zoo demonstrates the successive approximations used to train Deri the orangutan to hold position and allow a syringe with a dulled needle to be pressed against his forearm. This is in preparation for a voluntary intramuscular injection. The steps shared here were accomplished in two sessions with a naïve animal.

The author works with one of the veterinarians of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation to train a trade behavior. The video demonstrates the successive approximations used to train the behavior. As seen in the video clip, the orangutan learned the behavior in one session.

Additional Resources

Podcast on Training Orangutans for Cardiac Care (Visit page for more video examples of training)

Full Course on the Work in Borneo for Members of Animal Training Fundamentals

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