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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Rare leopard is released in Indonesia

Aceng the Javan LeopardInternational Animal Rescue has helped to return a rare Javan leopard to the wild almost a year after it was found trapped in a snare in West Java. A team from UK charity International Animal Rescue (IAR) and the Animal Sanctuary Trust Indonesia (ASTI) rescued the highly endangered animal and restored it to health.

Before permission was granted for the release, the authorities insisted on a survey of local people to gauge support for the leopard's reintroduction. Perhaps surprisingly, nearly everyone from Saninten village in Banten province was very positive about his return, with 99% voting in favour. In spite of this enthusiastic response, it still took more than seven months to get the permission.

During this time the leopard, named Aceng by his rescuers, was kept at a local sanctuary and contact with people was kept to a minimum: this prevented him from becoming habituated to humans and would thus minimise the chances of any conflict with local people in the future. Finally, on 18 June 2009, almost 10 months after the call for his rescue, Aceng began his journey back to freedom.

Sedating Aceng for the journeyCamera traps will be used to follow Aceng to study his behaviour in the wild and monitor him after such a long time in captivity. International Animal Rescue's team in Indonesia is also preparing an educational programme to teach local people about endangered species and about the risks snares pose for wild animals. It is hoped they can be persuaded to use other more humane methods of trapping in future.

Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said: "We are all greatly relieved that Aceng is finally going back to the wild after such a long wait. His is a real success story and everyone involved in his rescue, rehabilitation and release can be proud of the part they played in saving such a rare animal."

Before his journey Aceng was sedated so that the vets could take blood, give him a final medical check-up and insert a microchip for identification. Then he was put in his transport crate and his weight of 18 kilograms was recorded. The release team set off in the early hours and arrived at Saninten village at dawn to find preparations underway for welcoming the leopard. Banners had been put up in the town and t-shirts had been specially printed. When the vehicle arrived several hundred people had gathered to see Aceng. After a speech from the head of the village - and a delay to encourage the large crowds to disperse - the two hour journey up the hill began. Many of the villagers were keen to follow Aceng up the hill to his habituation enclosure where he would spend the next few days.

Transporting Aceng to the release siteHalf way to their destination a group of local villagers gathered to say a prayer for Aceng to wish him a safe return to his home and a long and healthy life.

A large black canvas was put around the cage so that Aceng would not be stressed when he left the transport crate and during his few days being habituated to the area. The release team of five people from IAR and ASTI stayed with the leopard for three days while he got used to the forest again before he was quietly released back into his forest home.

For further information and photographs please contact Lis Key at IAR on 07957 824379.

Background notes for editors

The leopard was found in the protected forest on the mountain Gunung Karang. He was trapped in a snare set for deer and had probably been struggling for several days: the deep wound from the wire around his body was crawling with maggots. The villagers alerted the local authorities and fed the leopard until the rescuers from IAR and ASTI arrived.

The Javan leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the smallest leopard species and becoming increasingly rare because hunters trap it for its fur. It is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), identifying it as highly endangered.

Following intensive medical care the wounds healed rapidly and after two weeks the skin was already starting to grow back. No internal organs had been damaged, and luckily, Aceng recovered without permanent injuries from the snare. Two months later, the fur at the place of the wound was growing back, and Aceng was declared ready for reintroduction into the wild by several veterinarians.