Wildlife and animal rights

Three infant orangutans confiscated from smugglers in Indonesia

Digo. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

Three infant orangutans who were confiscated during an alleged attempt to smuggle them from Indonesia to Malaysia are now being cared for at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme’s  quarantine and rehabilitation centre.

The three orangutans have been named Dupa, Duma, and Digo. Dupa is a female aged 1½ years, Duma is also female and one year old, and Digo is a male who is just two to three months old.

They were confiscated by Indonesia’s customs authorities, working with the military, during an alleged attempt to smuggle them to Malaysia via the port of Dumai in Sumatra’s Riau province.

The director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), Ian Singleton, said: “Having arrived a little tired and bewildered after the 15-hour drive to our centre near Medan from Dumai, the three infants must first get used to their new surroundings.

“Once they have settled, they will be given full medical checks before they can be introduced to other orangutans at the centre, and begin the long and gradual process of being prepared for eventual release and reintroduction to the wild, when they are deemed ready.”

Singleton thanked the customs and military personnel who were involved in the confiscation and those members of the public who tipped them off about the smuggling attempt.

 “All three of these infants have clearly been captured from the wild some time during the last 18 months, which almost invariably involves killing their mothers, who will defend their infants to the death,” Singleton said.

Singleton said the orangutans would need several years of care and rehabilitation before they could be returned to the wild at one of the SOCP’s two orangutan reintroduction centres in Sumatra.

“Assuming all goes well, however, there’s no reason why they can’t live a long and productive life again as wild orangutans one day, and hopefully produce infants of their own, making an important contribution to the future survival of their species.”

Digo. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

Senior SOCP veterinarian Yenny Sarawswati said the three infants were clearly stressed by their ordeal, and somewhat dehydrated.

“Dupa and Duma were also very dirty, having been in a crate with waste food and their own faeces. Digo was a bit cleaner, having been held in a box with some blankets for comfort.

“Digo was also not very active, but fortunately would drink infant milk and is doing OK, and Duma is clearly afraid of people, much preferring to cling on to Dupa for security than to a human caretaker.”

Dupa. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

Duma. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

The infants will undergo chest x-rays to check for tuberculosis and blood tests to see if they have contracted hepatitis or any other health problems during their time in captivity.

SOCP operations manager Asril said: “We are very lucky that these three orangutans appear to be reasonably OK despite their ordeal. They’re all very young though, and we need to keep a very close eye on them to be sure that we haven’t missed anything.

“All being well, they’ll make good progress now that they’re being cared for at our centre.”

The head of North Sumatra’s Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BBKSDA-SU), Ir. Hotmauli Sianturi, pointed out that orangutans are critically endangered and fully protected under Indonesian law.

The killing, capture, keeping, or trading of an orangutan carries maximum penalties of prison terms of up to five years and fines of 100 million Indonesian rupiah (about $US 7,000).

Since 2001, the SOCP has received more than 380 orangutans at its quarantine and rehabilitation centre. More than 180 of them have been released at the SOCP reintroduction centre in Jambi province and, since 2011, 120 orangutans have  been reintroduced to the forests of the Jantho Nature Reserve in Aceh province.

There are three orangutan species: the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii), the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), and the Tapanuli species (Pongo tapanuliensis), which was only described in November 2017. The Tapanuli orangutans also live in Sumatra, in the Batang Toru forest.

Only about 13,400 Sumatran orangutans and fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans remain in the wild. There are estimated to be between 55,000 and 62,000 Bornean orangutans living in the wild, split into three distinct subspecies.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed all three orangutan species as critically endangered.

The Jakarta Post reported that two suspects, identified as SP, 40, and JD, 27, and reported to be from Pekanbaru, were arrested at the Dumai port. They were caught with the three orangutans, two crab-eating macaques, one siamang, and one binturong, all kept in cardboard boxes.

The accused are reported to be facing allegations of illegally trading wildlife.

The Jakarta Post quotes the head of the Riau BKSDA, Suharyono, as saying that the case would be handled by the law enforcement unit of the Sumatra Environment and Forestry Agency.

The accused would be charged under law 5/1990 on natural resources and their ecosystem as well as customs law 17/2006, Suharyono was reported as saying.

Digo. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

Duma. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.

Dupa. Photo credit: Ariesta Ketaran YEL/SOCP.