You have probably heard about 90 Days Of Change by now… where Auguste is adopting an orangutan on behalf of an online customer every day, for 90 days.
The people who have made this campaign possible make up the incredible organisation that is Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia (BOS Australia). We chatted to their Vice President, Lou Grossfeldt, about her love of orangutans, BOS Australia’s current projects and how we can all make conscious changes in our daily lives to help protect orangutans from extinction.
Hi Lou, it’s great to meet you! How did you first become involved in BOS?
I joined BOS Australia back in 2002, after seeing Willie Smitts give a talk on Orangutans and how he started Samboja Lestarti. I have always wanted to help any type of Primate conservation program and have spent the last 25 years trying to raise money and resources to help.
When did you first realise your love for orangutans?
I have worked with primates for over 25 years. I spent 23 years at Taronga Zoo and managed their primate unit for 15 years. I love all primates and have a passion to help them all. I have a strong interest in the great apes and have worked closely with them for many years. One of the special qualities that make orangutans so special is their incredibly independent nature and intelligence. They're deep thinkers who have a level of patience unlike I have ever seen. These complex creatures are known as the man of the forest, orang meaning man and hutan meaning forest.
Tell us about BOS Australia’s major projects...
BOS Australia focus on providing support for BOSF (Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation) through fundraising and raising the profile of the work that is does. BOSF is the largest rescue and rehab organisation for Bornean orangutans in the world and as a sister organisation, we want to provide any help they need.
We supply external support through special projects that we fundraise for - for example their new baby house or sewerage system. I am also actively involved in their enrichment and welfare programs, so that I can work alongside key staff to help provide support - particularly in the area of non-releasable orangutans.
Talk us through the rehabilitation process of your adopted orangutans:
The rehabilitation process is lengthy. Each individual orangutan is assessed from both a physical and mental health perspective when it arrives. Of course, it also depends on the age that the orangutan is when it comes into one of the BOSF sanctuaries. Once each animal has been given a clear bill of health, then it will go to the nursery or to forest school depending on age and level of ability. Some orangutans don't ever recover from the trauma of losing their mother and are never able to make it back to the wild. Mum teaches her baby how to climb, what to eat and how to survive. This learning is essential to survival and without mum, it is up to a human carer to try and teach this. No one can ever really replace mum but local Indonesian woman take on the role as care givers and do the best to care and teach them like their orangutan mothers.
Forest school teaches independence, nest building and what food to eat. From here each animal will be assessed again and then determined if they can make it back in the wild. To be able to be free is the ultimate success.
Talk us through a visit to Borneo...
Borneo feels like home to me in so many ways. I love to see my many friends at the projects who have dedicated their lives to making a difference. It's also cool to see orangutans that I have known for over 10 years grow and hope to see them set free one day. I work alongside the enrichment team, to provide enrichment for the orangutans, with a focus on those that won't make it back to the wild. The days are often long and humid... but also fun and rewarding as you try to help make a difference in the lives of the animals that have had such an unfortunate loss.
How can we as consumers in Australia aid in protecting these beautiful creatures from extinction?
Conservation should always start at home, and here in Australia we have a lot of species that deserve our support and help. Choosing carefully what we consume is essential in creating a more sustainable future. I don't believe that we are careful about the resources we use and often take for granted what we have as a developed country. We do have such a sense of entitlement.
Think carefully before you buy. Buying sustainable timber products and investing in sustainable palm oil is essential to help make a difference. By boycotting palm oil, we just shift the problem elsewhere and cause deforestation in another place.