Four orangutans have moved into their unique new forest home in North Sumatra: the Orangutan Haven. It’s a landmark moment for the veterinarians and others working in animal welfare who have been rescuing and caring for orangutans in Indonesia for decades.
The Orangutan Haven, which stretches over nearly 50 hectares, is providing a long-term home for orangutans who cannot be released to the wild and, when it opens later to the public, it will offer visitors the opportunity to learn more about orangutans and other wildlife species.
The Haven is about 27 kilometres from the city of Medan. It was set up by the Swiss NGO the PanEco Foundation and its Indonesian partner Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (the Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation).
There are nine islands in the Haven, equipped with climbing structures, ropes, plants, nesting baskets, and freshwater drinking pools and separated from each other by wide water moats.
Ian Singleton, who initiated the project and is the Haven’s conservation manager, said: “Given that orangutans can live to 40 or 50 years or more, the Orangutan Haven has been created to provide these individuals with the best possible care and welfare for the rest of their lives on large, naturally vegetated islands rather than living out their days in the metal cages they previously occupied.”
Singleton said it was awesome to see the orangutans swinging through the vegetation, building nests, and starting to relax after so many years of confinement.
To date, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP)¹ has cared for more than 450 orangutans, mostly confiscated illegal pets. Of these, more than 200 have been released into the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in the Jambi province and 150 have been released into the Jantho Pine Forest Nature Reserve in Aceh.
Some of the orangutans at the SOCP’s Orangutan Quarantine and Rehabilitation Centre cannot be returned to the wild as they would not survive. Some are blind and others have other physical or psychological challenges.
The first orangutan to move into the Orangutan Haven (on September 12 this year) was Krismon, who was captured as a baby in 1997 and was held in captivity by a local army commander.
Krismon was rescued in May 2016 after spending 19 years locked in a cage that was just 1.5 metres wide and 1.5 metres high.
“As a result, he has some physical and psychological issues that preclude him being released to the wild, although he has made amazing progress whilst with the SOCP since his confiscation,” Singleton said.
The second orangutan to move to the Haven was Leuser, who is blind in both eyes. Leuser (pictured below) was shot 62 times with an air rifle, including twice in one eye and once in the other, during a conflict with local farmers.
The third orangutan to move to the Haven was Paguh, who is also blind because of air rifle injuries.
The fourth orangutan to move to the Haven was a seven-year-old female named Dina, who is also blind.
“Dina came to us as a very young infant about one year old,” Singleton said. “She had an encephalitis brain infection. She was pretty much paralysed from the neck down. Since then she’s regained the use of her body, but she’s never regained her eyesight.”
Leuser, Krismon, and Paguh already have access to their islands. They are gradually and carefully exploring, venturing a little further each day. Dina will be given access to her island in a couple of weeks’ time.
The other orangutans who will be brought to the Haven are Lewis and Hope, who are also both blind; Dek Nong, who is arthritic; and Fahzren, who was illegally taken out of Sumatra, grew up in captivity in Malaysia, and was repatriated to Indonesia in 2013.
Singleton explains that there is room for expansion at the Haven. Four of the orangutans may be paired up and there is sufficient land on which to build more islands.
He adds that the SOCP is still taking in an average of twenty to 25 orangutans a year, which is the same number as ten to 15 years ago.
Previously, most of the orangutans brought to the SOCP were confiscated illegal pets, Singleton says, but, in recent years, there have been an increasing number of victims of human-wildlife conflict, “orangutans going into farmlands and being shot at, or clubbed, or beaten up”.
Singleton doesn’t see this as an indication that wildlife conflict with orangutans is increasing.
“I think it’s just that we know about them, and we know about them from social media and other networks, whereas, twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have heard about these cases, and those animals would just have died,” he said.
Singleton’s delight at seeing the orangutans he has cared for released from the frustration of being caged is tangible. “I wouldn’t say that they have now been transformed. I’d say that they were transformed while they were in captivity in metal cages. What they’re able to do now is to be themselves; to be who they really are.”
The co-managing director of the PanEco Foundation, Irena Wettstein, said: “The Haven aims not only to promote orangutan conservation and animal welfare, but also to inform and educate visitors of all backgrounds about how they can reduce their environmental footprint and make progress in changing and adapting for a more sustainable lifestyle in the future.”
Link to the Orangutan Haven’s crowdfunding campaign.
- The SOCP is a collaborative programme run by the Sustainable Ecosystem Foundation with support from the PanEco Foundation and the Indonesian Government’s Directorate General of Natural Resource and Ecosystems Conservation.
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