Orangutan and I

By Siska Sulistyo

21 November 2019 |Updated: 21 November 2019

My involvement as a regular participant at OVAG workshop started in 2015. This event has given me the chance to meet and learn so much about orangutan medic conservation from many seniors and colleagues from all over the world. I get so many new friends and colleagues each year, enabling me to have a pool of reference to help my work in orangutan health and conservation.


The Beginning of My Career

Working as a vet has always been my first option. I am also very interested in endemic primates of Indonesia since I was in vet school at UGM. This is well known by my two lecturers, Pak Indarjulianto and Pak Heri Wijayanto.

In 2014 I got a job in one of the biggest orangutan conservation organizations in Indonesia. I was very happy. My experience working with the orangutans was very impressive. Their behavior and traits are very human-like, and I think orangutan is one of the most expressive animals especially if they want something. They are capable of showing their emotion through their facial expression and behavior.

Working as a vet for orangutans, you are not only taking care of them physically, but also emotionally. An emotional approach is necessary to be able to understand what these apes can’t say verbally.

There is a male orangutan named Matdodo (12 years old at that time). Matdodo had an abnormal behavior; he always braced his own body with an empty stare. Sometimes he also banged himself to the cage. This kind of behavior is often observed in orangutans who are experiencing boredom or prolonged distress, which then expressed as a stereotypic behavior. I often sat and looked down at him while mumbling “I sincerely want to help you. I trust that you can feel and understand that”.


Training to the US

In 2018 I got the chance to go to the US to learn and join the vet teams in several zoos. This trip was sponsored by Dr. Nancy Lung, a senior zoo vet from the US. I consider her as a mother figure for me rather than a colleague. She once said “One day I will bring you to America, Jati”. And she did so.

After the 2018 OVAG workshop in Aceh, through a scholarship that Nancy got from the Smithsonian Insititute (through the Global Health Program), she brought me to Washington DC to join the vet team at the National Zoo for one month. They also gave me a chance to visit the Veterinary Hospital at Front Royal Virginia. The work in the facility was more focused on reproduction engineering in many species of animals. They also gave me a chance to be involved in animal training program.

From Washington DC, I was sponsored by Raffaella Commitante, the President of Orangutan Conservancy to go to Fort Wayne, where I was invited to shadow the vet team at Fort Wayne Children Zoo. Dr. Joe Smith, the vet who had joined OVAG several times, acted as my host during my visit. Joe always made all the efforts to allow me to see and experience as many procedures as possible. He also let me join the animal training program with the orangutans at the zoo. I also had the unforgettable experience of celebrating Thanksgiving Day with Joe and his family.

Joe then facilitated me to visit 4 states in 2 weeks. I went to Indianapolis Zoo, Louisville Zoo, Ohio Zoo, and Toledo Zoo. I got the see many facilities and procedures in many species of animals. Thanks Joe for making a new record for me: 4 states in two weeks, that is amazing J.


Today and Future

Currently I work at Sintang Orangutan Center, a rehabilitation center for orangutans in the Regency of Sintang, West Kalimantan. I am a lucky local person, because I can work in my own kampong, in the profession that I love. My career as an orangutan vet has been in the 6th year today.

From orangutans I learn that working with animals who can’t speak needs high dedication and a happy and sincere heart in order to know and understand them. And I believe that the animals can feel that.

“If we interact and treat them sincerely and happily, I believe that they can feel it and will return the feeling in an amazing way”.


This is my story and

I am proud to be a vet for orangutan conservation




drh. Waluyo Jati


Sintang Orangutan Center,

West Kalimantan, Indonesia