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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

We have released five orangutans with the help of local communities

Five orangutans have been returned to their home in the rainforest after undergoing rehabilitation at our rescue centre in West Borneo. The release took place in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (TNBBBR) and was carried out by our team in collaboration with the Natural Resources Conservation Centre (BKSDA.)

Returning wild animals to their natural habitat is an integral part of IAR’s Indonesian programme. This time round, it was the turn of five orangutans that had been kept as pets before being rescued and rehabilitated at our centre in Ketapang. 

Having finally been deemed ready for reintroduction, they were released on 28 June 2019. The group consisted of male orangutan Bujing and four females - Kibo, Japik, Manis, and Santi. Our team rescued Bujing from the Sekadau area of West Borneo in 2014. He had been bought in 2009 by a man in Sandai village who kept him chained by the neck, with only an old sack for comfort and warmth.  

"Bujing’s years of captivity on the end of a chain have made his body stooped and bent. However, this condition will not affect his ability to thrive back in the wild. Indeed, during rehabilitation Bujing showed a strong will to survive. And that was also witnessed when the orangutans were let out of the cage on the day of release, " said Dr Elizabeth Riana, veterinarian at IAR Indonesia.

Six year old female Japik had also been a victim of the pet trade. She had been kept as a pet in Balai Bekuak village in Ketapang Regency since she was a baby of less than a year old. When she grew bigger and stronger, she was chained to a tree without any shelter from the hot sun or the driving rain.

After two years living in these dreadful conditions, Japik was rescued by our team and the BKSDA at the end of 2015. She then joined Bujing and all the other orangutans undergoing rehabilitation at our centre. Kibo, also six years old, was kept by residents in Harapan Village in Ketapang Regency. A man claimed to have found her when she was still a baby.

He kept her in a 1m x 1m x 1m cage behind his house. After undergoing a rehabilitation period of almost five years, Kibo was finally declared fit to be returned to her natural habitat. Manis was found by one of the field workers in the Labai Hilir Village area, Simpang Hulu Subdistrict, Ketapang Regency in 2012. According to her ‘owner’, he found Manis when she was around three to six months old. Out of pity, the man kept her for a year. 

He claimed to have released Manis into the forest but she came back to his house. He then kept her for eight months before finally handing her over to the BKSDA who passed her on to IAR’s centre for rehabilitation. Manis is now six years old and based on the results of regular behavioural monitoring, Manis is now fit to be released. Santi has undergone the longest period of rehabilitation, starting in October 2013, and is now also deemed ready to fend for herself in the wild.

The two day release operation went smoothly. The release team left our centre in Ketapang on 26 June at 04:00 a.m. During the journey, the team kept the orangutans under regular observation in their transport crates to ensure they were not stressed given the very long distance they had to travel. It took about 17 hours for the team to reach the section office of Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Nanga Pinoh.

Here, they rested for one night before continuing on to the release point.The journey continued the next morning, June 27, towards Mengkilau Hamlet, which is the closest hamlet to the release location in the TNBBBR area. On this five hour stretch of the journey, the release team was joined by members of the Koramil District and Sub-District Police. On arrival at Mengkilau Hamlet, the team boarded motorboats for the one hour trip to the Ribas Bay camp, a survey and monitoring camp established by IAR Indonesia. At the camp, the five orangutans were placed in a habituation cage to rest after their long journey and adjust to the new environmental conditions.

The next morning, 28 June, 2019, the team travelled on to the release point on foot to deliver the five individuals to their new home. This release operation was extra-special because this was the first time that we also enlisted women from the local hamlet as porters to carry supplies and equipment for the release team. The female porters joined the male porters who were carrying the five crates containing the orangutans, each weighing between 100 and 150 kg. The involvement of local communities has become an integral part of IAR Indonesia’s programmes in an effort to help the community's economy. Female figures play an important role in regulating the household economy and need to be involved in conservation activities. Women in the supporting hamlets in TNBBBR can use the additional income for their children's health or education needs without having to seek additional funds from activities that risk damaging nature.

"This release not only focuses on saving orangutans but also aims to help humans. Members of the orangutan monitoring team, porters, cooks, and all people involved in the release activities also receive income that can replace the money they usually get from illegal logging and thus help to preserve the forest. These ‘superwomen’ who have helped with this release will go home with extra income to help their families. Empowering women is one of the most effective ways to save forests. Therefore we believe that the role of women in conservation is very important and alternative livelihoods that include women must be promoted,” said Karmele Llano Sanchez, IAR Indonesia Programme Director. Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park was chosen as the release site for the orangutans because the forests are still natural and good.

A survey by IAR’s team shows the abundance of trees providing food for orangutans. In addition, its status as a national park area will be better able to protect these orangutans and their habitat as a conservation area. From a study conducted by an expert team from IAR Indonesia, at the Mentatai BBR Bunaken National Park which is in the orangutan release location, no orangutans were found and it was stated that the orangutans in this region had become extinct in the last 20-30 years. Therefore, releasing orangutans there is extremely important. We have released 41 orangutans in TNBBBR since 2016. Because the released orangutans have been rehabilitated, we fielded a team to monitor their behaviour and their adaptation to their new environment.

The monitoring team, consisting of residents of the TNBBBR buffer zone, will observe the behaviour of the orangutans every two minutes from when they wake up to when they go to sleep again every day. This monitoring process lasts for one to two years to ensure that the released orangutans have adapted to their new environment and know how to survive."The activity of saving wildlife, both translocation and rehabilitation, must indeed be carried out tirelessly. And we are grateful to our partners for their participation and contribution. However, this is not enough.

There is a bigger task that must be pursued together continuously, namely changing the mindset of the community in viewing wildlife.

Let us intensify conservation campaigns and education massively, particularly for the younger generation, so that in the future they will be more concerned about environmental conservation and wildlife," said Head of West Kalimantan Natural Resources Conservation Centre, Sadtata Noor Adirahmanta, S.Hut. MT. "As an orangutan release site, the Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park (TNBBBR ) area must be maintained so that released orangutans can form new populations and remain sustainable. For that we need the support of various parties to participate in maintaining the national park area as a habitat for orangutans, because the Ministry of Environment can’t work alone," said Agung Nugroho, S. Si., MA, the head of TNBBBR.