Siswi: Queen of the Jungle

Siswi is the dominant female orangutan in Camp Leakey area where Dr. Galdikas has a hut and often works. She has released several orangutans here. Dr. Galdikas told me that Siswi’s mother was her “best friend”. Siswi was born wild and had a wild father. Dr. Galdikas is very fond of her – as am I.

Siswi is a true character. She is the Queen around here which is apparent because the staff at Camp Leakey always has her favorite fruit on hand. She absolutely loves rambutan fruit (which comes in bunches, is the size of a small mandarin and is prickly on the outside) and durian fruit (which I call “stinky fruit” because…well, it stinks!).

I met Siswi in 2009 when Theo and I were here together. She was often sitting with ‘Tom’, the big dominant male in this area. Siswi is the only female that can sit in close proximity to Tom – safely.  One thing I noticed about Siswi 6 years ago, is that she is an orangutan ‘yogi’. I never actually observed her doing a “downward dog” – well, maybe with Tom :-o. But I photographed her in a position that I saw several times – including this time as well!!!!


This trip when we bumped into her in the forest, she was in a rare mood. She sat on the forest path and started pulling down small trees to strip their leaves. She then took the leaves and piled them on her lap – very methodically. This lasted for quite a while until a ranger approached and scolded her for destroying these young trees.

_19A1445As soon as he left, she continued to pull the trees down and gather the leaves.

Every night, orangutans who are arboreal apes, make a nest or bed in the tree tops to sleep. But it is midday and we are firmly on the ground. Hmmm.

They also use leaves bunched together and put them over their heads like an umbrella as protection from the rain. They do not like rain. It actually makes a great deal of sense because the high humidity here doesn’t allow their thick hair to dry for a very long time. They can easily get parasites, fungi, etc because they do not groom being solitary apes (unless a mother has young with her). But now, it isn’t raining.
What is she doing?

Here is a short movie clip of her (50 seconds download):
SiswiFinalSiswi Clip

Jami Tarris

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