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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Magnificent orangutan Melky returns to his home in the rainforest

An orangutan that spent eight years learning how to behave like a wild ape has completed his rehabilitation and returned to his home in the Bornean rainforest.

Melky the orangutan was only two years old when he was rescued in 2009 by our specialist team. Since then he has been undergoing rehabilitation at our Orangutan Conservation Centre in Ketapang, West Borneo which is home to more than 100 rescued orangutans. After eight years’ rehabilitation in the centre’s ‘baby school’ and then ‘forest school’, learning to climb and play with the other rescued orangutans, Melky was released in time to start 2018 back in the forest where he belongs. The release operation was carried out by another one of our rescue teams, in cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Centre (BKSDA) and the Forestry Department of West Kalimantan.

Melky is the first orangutan from our centre to return to the forest after such a lengthy period of rehabilitation.  The process enables orangutans that have been taken from the wild as babies and kept in captivity to develop the natural skills and behaviour they will need to survive in the forest.

“In the wild baby orangutans learn their survival skills from their mothers,” said Karmele Llano Sanchez, our Programme Director in Indonesia. “They stay with them until they are six or seven years old, learning how to climb, forage for food and build nests. But Melky was taken from his mother when he was still a baby and kept in captivity as someone’s pet, so he never had the chance to learn from her. “The length of the rehabilitation process depends on each individual,” Sanchez added.

“Some are fast learners, others need longer, as was the case with Melky. Indeed, sadly some of the orangutans in our centre have completely lost the ability to fend for themselves which means they will need lifelong care and can never be released.”

Before they are released, candidates like Melky spend a final period on ‘data island’ – an island enclosure where the orangutans are closely monitored by a team gathering behavioural data on each individual. It is this data which determines when each orangutan is finally ready for release.

Melky’s journey home involved a four hour trip by road, followed by more than four hours on foot to the release site deep in the  protected forest of Mt Tarak. Five slow lorises had also been brought from our centre for release and 12 local men had been enlisted as porters to carry the transport crates.

A team of local villagers will remain in the forest to track Melky’s movements and monitor his behaviour back in the wild. His release provides the opportunity to gather extremely useful data on how he adapts to his natural habitat after such lengthy and comprehensive rehabilitation. The monitoring team will follow Melky’s movements for as long as one or even two years. There are also already a number of other orangutans that we have released in the area which the team is still monitoring.