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caption: Orangutans spend the first 16 years of their lives learning from their mothers. 
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Orangutans spend the first 16 years of their lives learning from their mothers.
Credit: Eric Balke

People of the forest: the orangutans of Sumatra

Northern Sumatra is a magical tropical home to the endangered orangutan. But their rainforest home is being cut down, and many are orphaned as their habitat is lost. Researchers are working hard to understand how orangutans process and learn, while others rehabilitate young individuals for a life back in the wild.

In 2013 I traveled to the Leuser Ecosystem of northern Sumatra to host a PBS Nature film called ‘The Last Orangutan Eden’. The episode was all about the plight of the Sumatran orangutan and the people who are trying to care for them.

Now, eight years after the documentary, I catch up with Drs. Ian Singleton and Caroline Schuppli to revisit this rainforest ecosystem and learn how the research and rehabilitation work back then might have changed the lives of these amazing great apes. A journey back in time to learn about today’s Sumatran orangutan

caption: The mother will hold onto to two branches in a process called "bridging" that allows their young to move from tree to tree.
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The mother will hold onto to two branches in a process called "bridging" that allows their young to move from tree to tree.
Credit: Eric Balke

Recommended links from Chris Morgan:

Making of The Last Orangutan Eden

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)

The Orangutan Project

Dr. Caroline Schuppli research information

THE WILD is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan and Wildlife Media. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. It is hosted, produced and written by Chris Morgan. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker.