Primate Diary: Observing Orangutans in the Wild

As two orangutan infants tussled in the trees, curator of primates Meredith Bastian and primate keeper Alex Reddy looked on in awe. Over the summer, they traveled to Central Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo to follow these great apes in their native habitat.

Why did you travel to the Tuanan Orangutan Research Station?

Bastian: The Tuanan camp and forest hold so many wonderful memories for me, and I felt immediately at home back in the forest. In 2003, I helped train the first field assistants in wild orangutan collection data and conducted fieldwork from 2003 to 2007. I am so thankful to have been able to return to my second home in the swamps of Indonesia. Having lived and worked there for so many years, this was a real homecoming for me.

I was so pleased to be able to bring Alex and to see her thoroughly enjoy the forest and follow wild Bornean orangutans for the first time. It is useful for keepers to have an understanding of orangutan life in the wild, as she can integrate what she learned during this trip into her daily husbandry and keeper talks at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

Elephant keepers Ashley Fortner and Robbie Clark with elephants Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh.
Keepers Rebecca Riley and Megan Boyd with elephants Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh..
Gray seal Jo-Jo in a pool
Gray seal Jo-Jo. 
Keeper Diana Vogel and beaver Juniper.
Keeper Diana Vogel and North American beaver Juniper. 
Sea lion Ronin behind the scenes at the American Trail exhibit.
Sea lion Ronin. 
The primate and veterinary teams conduct a medical exam on Kyle orangutan.
Primate and veterinary staff conduct an exam on orangutan Kyle. 
Western lowland gorilla Calaya cradles Zahra as she eats primate chow.
Western lowland gorilla Zahra was born May 27, 2023. 
Hereford Rose stands outside the Kids' Farm barn on a snowy January day. Rose's face is turned toward the camera but to the side so her left eye is not showing.
Hereford heifer Rose. 
Male adult African lion
African lion Luke. 
A female lion walks through green grass
African lion Naba.
Andean bear cubs Sean and Ian explore their outdoor habitat.
Andean bear cubs Sean (left) and Ian. 
A female animal keeper holding a clipboard and looking at a duck
A zookeeper looks into a tank of corals

Meredith, for you, this was a ‘homecoming’ of sorts. What was that like?

Bastian: Returning to Tuanan and visiting the area where the Sungai Lading forest and my base camp once stood was very much a homecoming for me. Seeing the current state of the Sungai Lading area was difficult and very sad to see. However, equally encouraging was to see how much the Tuanan forest has grown over the years.

Pak Nadi, one of the very first field assistants at Tuanan, now operates the site’s boat. Three of my field assistants from Sungai Lading are now working at Tuanan. Seeing them and their families was like returning to my second family.

Sungai Landing
Sungai Lading was first burned in 2010 and again in 2015.
Keepers Julie Buschor (left) and Erica Royer (right) transport a sihek egg to the Sedgewick County Zoo.
Keepers Julie Buschor (left) and Erica Royer (right) transport a sihek egg to Sedgwick County Zoo. 
Sihek egg in a net at the SCBI-Front Royal Campus.
The sihek egg landed safely in the shade cloth! 
A small, 23-day-old Guam kingfisher chick with spiky feathers, round eyes and a large bill rests on a gray cloth placed in a small, round bowl
A sihek chick.