Last night’s TV: Orangutan Diary

orangutan diary

This was the first time I’d seen Orangutan Diary – it was the third of six episodes – and I wish I’d seen the ones before! I love anything to do with primates but while chimpanzees are my favourites, the lolloping orangutan comes a close second.

Steve Leonard and Michaela Strachan host the show in which we get to watch the day to day lives of the primates and their human carers at the world’s biggest ape rescue centre in Borneo which is home to over 600 orphaned and homeless orangutans…

orangutan diary steve and michaela

In last night’s episode, the Rescue Team searched for an orangutan who’d been seen perilously close to a village school, and despite their overall cute appearance, orangutans have strength that’s roughly equivalent to eight times that of a human, so they can’t be allowed to simply ‘wander’ around at will. Therefore, brave staff member Heskia risked life and limb in a potentially deadly climb to get Bonny – the wandering orang – back to the centre.

This being the first time I’d seen the show, I was introduced to the colossal male Hercules – who has to be the most hirsute orangutan I’ve ever seen! – and his complete opposite in terms of size, Noddy, who nervously attended “first day at school”.

Another orang’s story which I’d missed hitherto was that of Sumanto who’d apparently recently had a nasty fall and his health had taken a turn for the worse, which was really very sad to watch. Magnificent creatures like these – when in pain – are demonstrably distressed, even though it’s their instinct to hide it, lest predators spot the weakness, and it was upsetting to see the confusion and fear in Sumanto’s eyes.

One of several moments of joy in last night’s show though was when Angelie, who’d been missing for over eight weeks, simply walked right back into the centre through the front gates!

There’s no doubt that the show is primarily biased toward portraying the orangutans as utterly cute and loveable – and indeed they are – and one scene in particular brought this home when a wheelbarrow full of baby orangutans complete with disposable nappies made just about the cutest of cute sights. It’s easy to forget they can be killers when full-grown.

When you see them swinging happily in hammocks or holding hands with the staff, the Darwinian Theory doesn’t seem so far fetched and – which I feel kind of odd about – such scenes bring out the mothering instinct in me!

We even saw the young orangutans blowing soap bubbles in the nursery and just like human infants, they chased after them with concentrated wonderment as the elusive bubbles dissipated.

Last night’s episode ended with the refuge’s largest orang being taken to a nearby island to spend time with other adults.

“It offers him a taste of the freedom and dignity that 16 years of captivity have denied” said one staff member while the director of the refuge described the orang as a “beach bum” given how much he enjoys lazing about on the river bank.

All in all, it was a lovely watch though not unique by any means. Switch on Animal Planet at almost any time of day and you’ll see very similar shows, the only difference being who’s narrating or introducing the show, but nonetheless, I’m glad I watched it and I wish I could spend time with some of the refuge’s beautiful babies!

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.