The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) has released ten rehabilitated orangutans into the wild. They are the first releases the BOSF has been able to carry out since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“The success of the release has proved that, under a new stricter protocol, orangutan and habitat conservation efforts can move on, even during the ongoing pandemic,” the CEO of the BOSF, Jamartin Sihite, said.
On February 16, the BOSF, working in collaboration with the Central Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), released seven orangutans from the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre into the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest in Indonesia’s Murung Raya Regency.
The orangutans were transported by car to the city of Kuala Kurun in the Gunung Mas Regency, where a chartered helicopter was waiting. They were then flown directly from the Kuala Kurun airport to release points in the heart of the forest.
In collaboration with the East Kalimantan BKSDA, the foundation then also released three orangutans – two males and one female – from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre into the Kehje Sewen Forest in the East Kutai Regency.
Five of the orangutans released in Central Kalimantan are males, who include a four-year-old named Deijo, and two are females, who include Deijo’s mother Disha.
The other female, 19-year-old Nenuah, had been repatriated from Thailand when she was four and a half years old.
Nenuah came to Nyaru Menteng in November 2006 along with 47 other orangutans. Prior to her release, only six other individuals from the group had made it all the way through rehabilitation and were released into the wild.
“The others have unfortunately experienced difficulty in developing the natural skills and behaviours required to qualify for release as a result of lengthy captivity during earlier years,” Sihite said.
Disha, who is aged about twenty, and Deijo, who is now about four years old, were rescued on March 13, 2020.
“They were frequently spotted wandering around the forest school nursery area,” Sihite said. “Their occasional appearance would frighten the young orangutans in the group and, more critically, their presence on the outskirts of a heavily degraded human settlement put them at high risk for conflict with humans, so the decision was made to rescue them.”
The acting head of the Central Kalimantan BKSDA, Handi Nasoka, said: “Efforts to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus have hampered many conservation-related activities, especially in Central Kalimantan.
“I warmly welcome the initiative from our colleagues at the BOS Foundation, who have managed to implement new protocols and procedures to help curb the spread of Covid-19, for the sake of both the community and wildlife, while continuing to carry out important conservation work. We at the Central Kalimantan BKSDA are committed to upholding conservation efforts, even as the pandemic persists.”
The Bukit Batikap Protection Forest is located far from the Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation centre and it usually takes three days and two nights to reach there by car and boat.
“The option of using air transport that significantly cuts travel time and the need to cross human settlements was welcomed by the team,” Sihite said.
The release in East Kalimantan was carried out two days after the one in Central Kalimantan. A team from PT. Rehabilitasi Habitat Orangutan Indonesia (RHOI) transported the three orangutans, aged between 21-28 years, to Juq Kehje Swen Island in Muara Wahau.
The orangutans were then helicoptered directly to the release point on the northern side of the Kehje Sewen Forest.
The head of the East Kalimantan BKSDA, Sunandar Trigunajasa, said: “We are grateful that we were able to continue our work together with our colleagues at the BOS Foundation by developing protocols that allow the rehabilitation process to carry on while still reducing the risk for Covid-19 spread in orangutan conservation activities.
“We cannot afford to stop our work in under any circumstance. What we must do is keep on innovating and adapting to the dynamic conditions and moving forward.”
Sihite said: “For an entire year, we have not been able to release orangutans because of the global pandemic, but we are still strongly committed to the orangutan conservation effort.
“We have taken advantage of this one-year gap to rewrite and finalise a new set of protocols for implementing activities in the midst of a pandemic, which allow us to continue saving orangutans.
“We conduct regular tests on staff to ensure that those who interact with orangutans are safe from Covid-19 as well as to ensure that the orangutans released from our rehabilitation centres are also healthy and free of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
Sihite added: “We have implemented strict health protocols, and introduced mitigation plans to be enacted in the event of an orangutan contracting the virus. Furthermore, the use of a helicopter for these orangutan releases also helps reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
“We are relieved that the procedures we have implemented to date have worked well. We will continue to strive to prevent the transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19 to orangutans, both those we care for and those who live freely in the wild.”
Released in Central Kalimantan
Hugus is a 15-year-old male orangutan who was rescued on November 22, 2007, after being confiscated from an oil palm plantation worker in Katingan Regency, Central Kalimantan. When rescued, he was about 18 months old and weighed seven kilograms.
“Hugus firmly dislikes the presence of humans and will display threatening gestures to show his displeasure,” Sihite said. “He tends to avoid the more dominant orangutans, preferring instead to practise his excellent skills alone.”
Bali, who is now 18 years old, was rescued from a plantation owned by villagers in Buntut Bali in the Katingan Regency, Central Kalimantan.
He arrived at Nyaru Menteng on January 16, 2003, at the age of four months.
“Like so many others, he arrived without a mother and in poor condition,” Sihite said. “Beneath his skin, there were lodged two rounds of air-rifle pellets and, on his face and chest, his skin was starting to peel away. To make matters even worse, his right leg was broken.”
While on the Badak Besar pre-release island, Bali injured his finger and his wound was so severe that his finger had to be amputated.
Noel is a 15-year-old male orangutan who was rescued from a villager in Tumbang Jutuh in the Gunung Mas Regency on December 27, 2007.
At the time of his rescue, he was 12 months old. His right index finger was crooked because of a previous injury.
Noel escaped from Badak Besar Island at the end of June 2020 by crossing the receding river. A week later, he was retrieved from a nearby farm.
Strada is a 19-year-old male orangutan who was rescued from the Lamunti village in the Kapuas district of Central Kalimantan on April 23, 2005, when he was three and a half years old.
A few years later, during his rehabilitation at Nyaru Menteng, Strada broke free from his enclosure.
The BOSF was unable to locate him, but, in March 2020, a BOSF team realised that the orangutan they were rescuing was Strada.
Released in East Kalimantan
Britney is a 28-year-old female orangutan who was rescued from captivity in Bali on June 16, 2000, when she was seven years old.
“From the day she arrived at Samboja Lestari, Britney was housed inside a socialisation complex because she was physically large for her age and extremely aggressive towards our technicians,” Sihite said.
“To this day, Britney is a stocky orangutan with an indifferent nature, and is extremely difficult to handle. She will completely ignore our technicians when they try to get her attention, unless there is a reward involved.”
“During her rehabilitation on a pre-release island, Britney developed her foraging and nest-building skills and proved that she had what it takes to survive independent of humans.”
Freet, who is 27 years old, was rescued on August 4, 1998, from a villager in Muara Wahau who had been keeping him captive. He was four years old and was still displaying wild behaviour.
“Upon his arrival at Samboja Lestari, Freet was diagnosed with Hepatitis B and had to be placed in a quarantine complex specially designed for orangutans with this condition,” Sihite said.
“Once we learned that Freet had a non-virulent strain of orangutan Hepatitis B, he was finally able to enter the pre-release stage of rehabilitation.”
Juve, who is 25 years old, was confiscated in Jakarta and was brought to Samboja Lestari on March 18, 2001, when he was five years old.
Hundreds of orangutans released
Since 2012, the BOSF has released a total of 478 orangutans into three release sites: the two sites in Central Kalimantan (the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest and the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park) and the Kehje Sewen Forest.
The latest releases were the 36th conducted by the BOSF in Central Kalimantan and the 24th in East Kalimantan.
These releases take the total population of released orangutans in the Bukit Batikap Protection Forest to 190, and in the Kehje Sewen Forest to 121.
All photos are courtesy of the BOSF. © BOSF 2021.
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