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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Update on our released females - Helen and Prima

The ultimate goal of our orangutan conservation project in Ketapang, West Borneo is to release rescued orangutans back into safe areas of protected forest. The painstaking rehabilitation process that the orangutans undergo at our centre is designed to ensure that each individual is well prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. And there is no better reward for all the team’s hard work than to know that released animals are thriving back in the wild.

Our resident primatologist, Dr Gail Campbell-Smith, has recently returned from monitoring Helen and Prima in Gunung Tarak forest. She reports on how amazingly well both females are adapting to their new semi-wild forest life. 

Update on Helen

Helen came to our Orangutan Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in 2009 after being rescued from an oil palm plantation. She was just two years old and had been severely beaten by the loggers who had killed her mother. She was tied by her wrists and ankles to a pole and was just barely alive. After successfully completing our rehabilitation programme, where Helen displayed the vital skills to survive in the wild, she was released into Gunung Tarak in January 2014. She was fitted with a monitor so that the team could follow her and monitor her behaviour to ensure she was thriving.

This picture of her in the tree is from our latest monitoring trip. Our thanks to Paloma Corbi for this wonderful picture of Helen.

Orangutans primarily feed on fruit when available, but also consume leaves, bark, flowers and insects. Helen was seen to be eating from a vast variety of fruit species. Orangutans are primarily arboreal animals travelling through the forest canopy at different levels avoiding terrestrial movement. Helen has a mean height of 21 metres from the ground and appears to have adapted to arboreal living very well. Helen continues to have no interest in the monitoring staff who follow her on a daily basis, which is great news.

On average, Helen travels 1.4 km a day. She travelled further distances just after her release into Gunung Tarak forest. One explanation for this could be that Helen was getting to know the lie of the land: understanding where feeding trees are situated to maintain a sufficient diet as well as understanding the movement patterns of other orangutans.   Helen's movement patterns are similar to wild female orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo.   She was also recently seen to be mating with a wild adult non-flanged male. 

Helen's health was also assessed by the team and she is in good condition. We are really pleased that she is showing all the signs of surviving as a wild orangutan. 


Release of Prima

Prima was taken to the forest of Gunung Tarak on the 10th June 2014 where she has been extensively monitored by our team. The majority of her daily activity is split between travelling, resting and eating - predominantly fruits, just like a true wild orangutan. Prima also does not seem disturbed by our monitoring team, ignoring them 99% of the time and travelling high in the forest canopy, which is challenging for our monitoring team! Our  observations so far indicate that Prima is adapting to a natural wild and arboreal life in the forest very well. 

Furthermore, Prima has had an interesting first month of release in Gunung Tarak with two normal interactions with resident wild orangutans, a female with an infant and an un-flanged male.  The wild female showed aggression towards Prima who in turn quickly moved a distance away from her. Prima’s second encounter with the wild male was super exciting as it ended in consensual mating.

Our medical team has assessed Prima and she is in good health and appears to be adapting very well to the wild. 

Our thanks to volunteer vet Jacklyn Eng for the picture of Prima.

The news of Helen and Prima adapting so well to life in the wild brings us all great joy considering both had a very difficult start in life.