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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Four orangutans make an epic journey back to freedom in the Bornean rainforest.

Four critically endangered orangutans have made an epic journey back to freedom in the Bornean rainforest.

They were taken home by our team in collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Centre (BKSDA) of West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (TNBBBR.) 

The animals being released were Lisa and Vijay, two rehabilitated orangutans, and a wild orangutan mother and infant called Mama Laila and Lili.

Male orangutan Vijay had been rescued from someone’s home in November 2015 when he was four years old. He was still very wild and so did not need to spend long in rehabilitation at our rescue centre in Ketapang, West Borneo. The young orangutan was already adept at climbing, making nests and foraging for food - and he was still very wary of humans. Lisa, a six year old female orangutan who entered our centre in January 2015, displayed the same wild behaviours, making her another good candidate for release.

Mama Laila and her infant Lili had been rescued by our team and the BKSDA in September this year. They had been driven from their forest habitat by logging and land clearance operations and strayed onto a community plantation in Jalan Tanjungpura in search of food.

The release team departed from our centre in Ketapang on Monday, 20 November on a journey that would involve a 20 hour drive, followed by a one hour boat ride and an eight hour trek on foot deep into the rainforest.

The medical team had confirmed that all four orangutans were fit and ready to return to their natural habitat. Lisa and Vijay had undergone all the necessary checks and procedures.

One of our vets, Sulhi Aufa, said: "The rehabilitation process at our centre is extremely rigorous, involving a number of stages during which each orangutan is carefully assessed. Only individuals who display all the appropriate natural behaviours will be considered for release. Fortunately Lisa and Vijay passed all the tests with flying colours!”

During the journey every care was taken to keep the orangutans comfortable and well fed and ensure they were not unduly stressed. Heavy rain made some of the route even more hazardous than usual and the road vehicles had to be pulled or pushed out of the mud on a number of occasions.

Once the convoy reached the office of Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Nanga Pinoh, they rested for one night before continuing on their way. After then completing the road and river stages of the journey, the team arrived at the release site the next morning at 8 am. 

Awaiting the arrival of the orangutans was a team of 12 porters from the nearest village, ready to carry the transport crates which included one containing Mama Leila and Lili weighing between 100kg and 150kg. 

Karmele Llano Sanchez, our programme director, said: "We’re very grateful to the residents of Mawang Mentatai and Dusun Nusa Poring who helped us get this cage to the point of release," said Karmele. “Incredibly, they helped us carry that heavy cage over a mountain and across a river, nine miles into the forest. Without them we simply wouldn’t be able to undertake these release operations."

"The best moment of all is when we see orangutans returning to their home in the wild," said Uray Iskandar of the BKSDA. “The orangutan is one of the most prestigious animals in Indonesia and it is our duty to maintain the sustainability of the species and its habitat."

We will now field a team to monitor the orangutans from the moment they wake in their nests in the morning to when they build new ones in the afternoon. This monitoring activity is vital to ensure the health and safety of the orangutans post-release.

International Animal Rescue has been carrying out orangutan release activity in TNBBBR since 2015. Seventeen orangutans have been released - nine orangutans that have undergone rehabilitation at IAR’s centre and eight wild orangutans.   "This activity plays a vital role in improving the sustainability of orangutans in their natural habitat," Uray concluded.

Toto, functional officer of Forest Ecosystem Control in Nanga Pinoh, applauded the release activity. He said, "The reintroduction activities carried out in the park have been going well and have been well studied. Hopefully there will be further research in future to demonstrate the benefits to the surrounding community of having orangutans in the region.” 

“IAR is also committed to providing assistance to the communities of Nusa Poring and Mawan Mentatai so that we can conserve forests and orangutans and manage forests sustainably,” Sanchez added. "By keeping orangutans, forests and communities around the park, we can strike a balance between nature and humans - because the two can bring benefits to each other," she concluded.