Wildlife and animal rights

Borneo foundation to create a forest island for albino orangutan

The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) is appealing for funds to create a forest island for an albino orangutan rescued in April.

The primate, who has been named Alba, is believed to be the only albino orangutan alive in the world.

It would be too risky to release Alba into the wild for health reasons, and because she could easily fall prey to poachers.

BOSF CEO Jamartin Sihite says five-year-old Alba has poor sight and hearing and her albinism could lead to her developing skin cancer later in life.

“To ensure that Alba can live a free and fulfilling life we are making her a forest island home, where she can live freely in natural habitat, but protected from threats posed by humans.”

The forest island will be enclosed by a moat and cover a minimum of five hectares, Sihite says, and Alba will share her new home with three other orangutans with whom she has bonded.

Once on the island, the group of orangutans will be protected, monitored, and observed by a full-time team, who will assess how they are adapting to forest island life.

When Alba was rescued by a BOSF team, working with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), she had been held captive by local residents for two days and still displayed wild behaviour when confiscated.

“She was stressed, dehydrated, weak, suffering from a parasite infection, and displaying a poor appetite,” Sihite said.

“During her first few days at our orangutan reintroduction centre at Nyaru Menteng, she would only eat sugarcane.”

On arrival, Alba was cared for around the clock by a veterinary team. ”Because of her sensitivity to sunlight, she was kept in a dimly lit, enclosed quarantine facility,” Sihite explained.

Alba gradually started to accept more varied foods, and milk, and her condition improved.

There was an international campaign to choose a name for the orangutan, and the name Alba, which means white in Latin and dawn in Spanish, was chosen.

Sihite says Alba has been showing exciting progress. “She now weighs 17.4 kilograms, and has completed her quarantine and health tests.”

He added: “Given her uniqueness and the associated risks to her survival in the wild, our risk assessment concluded that, although an orangutan of Alba’s age and skills would be best translocated to a safe area of forest, the threats that her special situation places her in – notably her contrasting colour and the health-related issues albinism poses – are too significant.”

The deputy CEO of the BOSF, Jacqueline Sunderland-Groves, says that, in addition to their health-related issues, albino animals like Alba are likely to face more threats in the wild than animals of normal colouration.

“Her contrasting colour makes her more visible so increased predation is a significant risk, coupled with the fact that her rarity and uniqueness would make her a valuable prize to a hunter.”

The BOSF has launched an appeal, and hopes to raise about US$ 80,000 to buy land to create the forest reserve.

Critically endangered

In 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) changed the classification of the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) from endangered to critically endangered, citing the main causes of its population decline as habitat loss and fragmentation, primarily for logging and oil palm plantations, along with illegal hunting and fires.

There are estimated to be between 55,000 and 62,000 Bornean orangutans living in the wild, split into three distinct subspecies.

The Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) is also listed as critically endangered. There are now only about 14,600 left in the wild.

The IUCN says the population trend is a decrease for both species.

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First baby orangutan born at release site

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, meanwhile, a team from the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and the Aceh BKSDA discovered that the first infant orangutan has been born at the SOCP’s reintroduction site at Jantho in Aceh.

On September 11, the team discovered that an adult female orangutan named Marconi was carrying a newly born infant.

The infant male, who has been named Masen, after the Ulu Masen Ecosystem, within which Jantho is situated, is the first orangutan to be born in the new population being established in Jantho by the SOCP.

The SOCP first began releasing confiscated orangutans in Jantho in 2011 and has reintroduced one hundred into the forests there to date.

Marconi was confiscated by the SOCP and the Aceh BKSDA in December 2009. She was being kept illegally by a police officer in the town of Alue Bilie in the Nagan Raya District.

She was one of the third group of orangutans returned to the wild in Jantho, in August 2011.


The SOCP’s director, Ian Singleton, said finding Marconi with a baby was fantastic news. “We’ve been working hard in Jantho to start building a brand new wild population of the species in the forests there.

“The goal is to create an entirely new, self-sustaining wild population.”

The manager of the Orangutan Reintroduction Centre in Jantho, Mukhlisin, added: “This new infant is just the start of what will eventually be a new population of orangutans that have never experienced captivity or contact with humans.

“He gives all of us new hope that we really can prevent the extinction of these amazing creatures.”

The head of the Aceh conservation agency, Sapto Aji Prabowo, said: “We really weren’t expecting to see this little guy when we went to Jantho; it was a real surprise, and a real treat.

“What we must do now, however, is deal with the root of the problem, and the fact that orangutans like Marconi and many others are still being captured and kept illegally as pets in the first place.

“It is illegal to capture, kill, trade, own, or even transport an orangutan in Indonesia and prosecutions are on the increase. People need to be aware that they face prosecution, fines, and prison if they get involved in these criminal activities.”

Since 2001, the SOCP has received more than 350 orangutans at its quarantine centre near Medan in North Sumatra.

More than 170 of them have been released at the SOCP’s reintroduction site in Jambi in southern Sumatra.

The SOCP is creating an Orangutan Haven and Wildlife Conservation Education Centre that will be a refuge for rescued orangutans who, for reasons of health or disability caused by human impact, are unable to be released back into the wild.

The orangutans at the SOCP quarantine centre currently reside in 6 metre x 6 metre holding cages.

Singleton, said: “The new Orangutan Haven, which will consist of moated islands developed from natural habitat, will allow these orangutans, who can live up to sixty years old, to roam freely and live enriching lives while still receiving the long-term care they need.”

All photos of Alba courtesy of the BOS Foundation.

All photos of Marconi and Masen courtesy of the SOCP.