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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Macaques find freedom in Indonesia

Macaque being prepared for releaseIAR's primate centre in Indonesia has successfully rehabilitated and released three groups of macaques that had been rescued from captivity. Only three months after two groups of macaques were reintroduced into the wild, another three groups have left IAR’s facilities to start a new life in the forest.

At the end of April this year, IAR's team released sixteen macaques on Panaitan Island, Ujung Kulon National Park, located on the south-western tip of Java. This group has been followed for some time to make sure they are able to survive on their own. This monitoring also served another purpose: it proved that the first reintroductions were successful, getting IAR the go ahead from the management of Ujung Kulon National Park to release more macaques on the island. After it had been confirmed that the original animals were doing well, preparations were begun for the next groups to make the journey to the island. IAR's team has produced a detailed account of the release operation:

All-male groups

Loading the boat with macaquesThree groups were selected making a total of 15 individuals. Macaque monkeys naturally live in mixed groups, but mixing males and females is complicated: once the number of males becomes too large in relation to the number of females, fights and other problems are inevitable. However, at the IAR rehabilitation centre, the number of male macaque monkeys is significantly larger than the number of females. Consequently over the years several all-male groups have been formed. Without females to compete for, these groups can be relatively stable, and each group has a dominant male, just as in mixed groups. For this release, three all-male groups had been selected. One group, with Doni as the leader, consisted of four individuals; another, with Jaja at the top, comprised five animals; and in the last group, male Kumbang was dominant in a group of six.

Carrying the macaques to the release siteMost of these animals had arrived at the International Animal Rescue centre when it first opened, coming from a poorly equipped rescue centre elsewhere in Java. Only one animal, confiscated close to the IAR centre, had since been introduced, so the groups had had time to stabilise. In each group there was one animal with long-lasting stereotypical behaviour; Pol in Doni's group, Enye in Jaja's group, and Scott in Kumbang's group. Over time, by providing a lot of social stimulation and enrichment, this behaviour had diminished significantly and eventually seemed to have disappeared altogether. Therefore, it was felt that the three groups were ready for release.

The trip

We selected a different release site from last time, on the other side of the island, in order to minimise the chances of confrontation between the earlier released groups and the groups of Doni, Jaja, and Kumbang. In addition, owing to the long history of stereotypical behaviour and strong people-focus of some animals, we chose a release site far from the few people living on the island - the National Park guards.

Ten days before the animals left Bogor, a preparation team was sent to explore the release site and build the rehabituation cages. Then on 29 July at one o'clock we started catching the animals. Since all are big males, they needed to be sedated. Once sedated, each individual was measured, weighed, and checked physically; finally, a microchip was inserted for future identification. All in all, it took several hours to catch and check all animals.

At ten o'clock the same evening, four cars left our centre in Ciapus, transporting the 15 macaques and our release and monitoring team. At 4.30 in the morning, we arrived in Sumur, where we waited until the National Park staff arrived to accompany us to the island. Two boats were needed to carry all animals. Luckily, weather was good and there were no big waves. At three o'clock, we arrived in Legon Kadam, the release site.

The release

Macaques in the habituation enclosureThe preparation team had already set up three habituation cages before our arrival, one for each group. The animals were to spend two days in these cages to get used to the sounds, smells, look and tastes of the forest. They would only eat food found on the island, and we would stay away from the cage as much as possible so they would get used to their new surroundings. Of course, we checked on them during the two days they spent in the habituation cage. They sometimes seemed a bit stressed but at the same time seemed to be intrigued by their new environment. After two days we made a small opening in the roof of each cage and put a branch for them to exit. All of them exited quickly and started to explore the trees. Some of them immediately started eating leaves! In a positive mood we set off for the camp, determined to leave them alone. Some animals did not agree, however... A few macaques, among which Enye, followed us to the camp and climbed on top of us. We were unpleasantly surprised by this behaviour as we didn't want them to seek human attention.

They weren't going to leave though. After a while we decided to move the camp further away from the animals, in the hope that they would explore the area rather than our camp. Moving through the water, where the animals didn't dare to follow, we found a new location. The release team then set off for the mainland; only the monitoring team, consisting of seven people, stayed behind. Since the island is remote, there will only be news after the monitoring period is over. Hopefully, all animals will soon enjoy their renewed freedom, without trying to seek human attention.

We would like to extend our gratitude to the forestry department of Ujung Kulon National Park, and Mr.Agus Priamudi, the head of the National Park, for their cooperation and determination and dedication for helping the animals of Indonesia. Without them, none of this would have been possible.