How Smart are Orangutans?

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How smart are orangutans?

Just how smart are orangutans?

The answer…….very!

Tasikoki has 2 resident orangutans, Bento and Is, and they are a full time job on their own.

They have to be challenged on a daily basis and kept active, so they don’t get bored in their enclosure. 

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Making Is and Bento Work for Their Food

In the wild orangutans would spend about 70-80% of their time searching for food. They would have to use their problem solving skills and make tools if necessary.

Since Is and Bento don’t have to search for their food, they can become lazy and apathetic if not challenged, and Tasikoki does not want that to happen.

Like with all the animals, Tasikoki wants to keep the orangutans setting as natural as possible, so the handlers work hard to come up with different puzzles and tasks for Is and Bento to complete in order to get their food.

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It starts with baskets of fruits and veggies that are divvied up into 5 groups and fed to Is and Bento throughout the day.

Then the food is wrapped up, stuffed, and tied in ways that will challenge the 2 apes.

Not too long ago the wrapped food was simply placed within arms reach outside the orangutan cage, but that was way too easy. Bento, the more dominant of the 2, would quickly gather up all the goodies and leave barely anything for Is.

After some brainstorming, the handlers came up with the idea of hanging the food above the enclosure and giving the 2 boys sticks to knock it down with.

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This also helps replicate more of the orangutans natural feeding habits since in the wild they would be found up in the jungle canopy.  

The handlers tie the food in different ways as well. They don’t want it to be as simple as hitting the food with a stick and knocking it down. They want Is and Bento to have to use their problem solving skills and figure out how hard, fast, etc they can hit or pull the pieces in order to access the food.

Challenging them like this 5 times a day helps keep Is and Bento busy, active, and content.

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Why are Orangutans Endangered?

There are many reasons orangutans are disappearing from the wild. 

One is the destruction of habitat. Plantations are popping up all over SE Asia, and humans are coming in and burning mass acreage of jungle in order to grow cash crops. 

Another reason is for personal use. Poachers will search the jungle for a mother and her young. They will then kill the mother and take the baby in order to sell it to tourist attractions, zoos, as a personal pet, to a testing lab, or the most disturbing one… the sex trade.

Yes that’s right, the sex trade. I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it either.

Will Is and Bento Ever Be Released?

Is and Bento both come from different backgrounds. 

Remember me talking about the boat Bin Bin and Bon Bon were found on? Well, Is was amongst the other animals confiscated from that boat. He was very young and had not been given the chance to develop his survival skills when he was taken from the wild.   

Bento was a family pet before coming to Tasikoki, and he too does not have the skills to survive on his own.

In the wild, the babies would stay with their mothers for a very, very long time in order to develop skills to survive. She would teach them what plants to eat, how to make tools, and how to defend themselves. Without this teaching, these 2 have no chance of surviving on their own.

In hopes of rebuilding the orangutan population, schools have been set up to teach young apes the skills that their mothers would have originally taught them, but Is and Bento are far past the age for placement.

Sadly this means that Is and Bento will never be eligible for release back into the wild.


Why Can’t They Go To a Sanctuary?

This seemed like an obvious solution to me, a person viewing the problem from the outside, but it’s not so easy to place an animal in a sanctuary. There are tons of hoops to jump through and regulations to meet before any animal can be transferred to a sanctuary or released back into the wild.

And lets not forget the never ending issue of cost. Transporting an animal is expensive no matter where you are at. In Is and Bento’s case, they would have to be shipped to mainland Borneo since there is no Orangutan sanctuary in Sulawesi and then taken to one of the sanctuaries there. 

So I asked “Why aren’t we raising the funds to do this?”

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Well the answer is simple. Even if Tasikoki could raise enough money to transfer Is and Bento to a sanctuary, there simply isn’t any more room. 

The jungle is being cut down at a rapid rate, and more and more orangutans are losing their homes. The sanctuaries are at capacity!

Since Is and Bento have a pretty good life at Tasikoki with their large enclosure, loads of attention, and more than enough food, they aren’t a high priority to be moved, so that is where they will stay.

Before I came to Tasikoki, I never realized how much work, money, and legality went into animal rehabilitation. It seems as if they are constantly fighting an uphill battle to try and better the lives of these poor animals.

Thank you to all of the conservationists, volunteers, and everyone in-between who are choosing to fight the good fight and help those who cannot speak for themselves! I am consistently being inspired by all the people who choose to take on this fight.


Would you like to volunteer at Tasikoki and help make enrichments for Is and Bento? Check out their website for more information on how to sign up.

Can’t volunteer? No worries….you can also help by giving a donation. Whether it be used for food, tools, or animal transport, any donation, big or small, is greatly appreciated. 



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